On the English T.V. show Newsnight, reporter Susan Watts and Milton Leitenberg, of the Center for International & Security Studies at the University of Maryland, interviewed Dr. Barbara Rosenberg, of the Federation of American Scientists. Rosenberg recently publicly stated that the U.S. government knows the identity of the anthrax terrorist who killed 5 people but won?t reveal his name because he works for the U.S. government and can reveal government secrets. Col. David Franz, former head of the Ft. Detrick Medical Research Program from 1987-98, Dr. Mary Beth Downs, of St. Matthew?s Univ. School of Medicine, who is a former Ft. Detrick employee, Dr. Timothy Read of The Institute of Genomic Research, who is an expert on the genetic makeup of anthrax, biological warfare consultant William Capers Patrick III, and Dr. Ronald Atlas of the American Society of Microbiologists were also part of the discussion. Below are excerpts from the Newsnight interview.
Rosenberg: ?Some very expert field person would have been given this job and it would have been left to him to decide exactly how to carry it out. The result might have been a project gone badly awry if he decided to use it for his own purposes and target the media and the senate for his own motives as not intended by the government project...but this is a possibility that I think needs to be considered.?
Milton Leitenberg: ?I would think it was somebody who had this kind of experience, and I think the word that I used for you was ?a cowboy? when we first spoke, that simply means in the United States someone who feels such bravura in his actions, he feels he?s a free actor, he can decide what should be done and what shouldn?t be done, and what the reason is.?
Susan Watts: ?In recent weeks, the focus of the investigation has been the U.S. army medical research institute at Fort Detrick near Washington. Fort Detrick is the site at the center of a web of military centers spread across the U.S. and twilight private companies which work with these military sites hand-in-hand as contractors... Colonel David Franz was in charge at Fort Detrick for eleven years - he's had hands-on experience with biological agents and has his own ideas about the kind of person the FBI should be looking for.?
Col. David Franz: ?It?s not someone who just got on the Internet or went to the library and got a book and held the book in one hand and a big wooden spoon in the other and stirred up batches. It?s someone who has spent a significant amount of time I believe working with a spore former of some kind and knew how to grow?and how to purify and how to dry.?
Susan Watts: ?Inside accounts by former staff at Fort Detrick during the nineties reveal a research site in disarray with questionable security measures. We spoke to one former lab technician now working in Belize about unexplained night-time activities in the lab.?
Dr. Downs: ?I came in developed my negatives and here they said anthrax and I looked at this little counter that would have been putting the sequential numbers on the film and there weren?t any films missing and yet I knew that Friday I had used it and it hadn?t said anthrax.?
Watts: ?What did that suggest to you had been happening over the weekend??
Downs: ?That someone had been in there working on anthrax....Anyone who did have access to the labs was not monitored in what they did, either in what they did in the lab that is the amount of agent they were growing, or in what they did with that agent, that is if they put it in their pocket and took it home??
Watts: ?Such is the FBI?s determination to establish if Fort Detrick is at the heart of this that it has turned to genomic analysis of the powder itself...The Institute for Genomic Research has created a DNA ?fingerprint? of anthrax taken from the body of the first person to be killed, a Florida-based newspaper man. They?re looking for differences between this so-called Florida ?strain? and stored samples from a number of U.S. military sites. Tim Read is one of the world?s leading authorities on the genetic make-up of anthrax. He compared the fingerprint of the Florida strain with that of samples originating at Fort Detrick.?
Read: ?They?re definitely related to each other ...closely related to each other.?
Watts: ?Could they be so closely related that one could consider them to be one and the same thing?? Read: ?I?m not commenting on that...?
Watts: ?But the real answer may lie not just in where the anthrax came from, but who had access to it. Veterans of the 1960s US germ warfare program were the obvious first thought. Early on in the investigation, there was one name that immediately came to many people, but few dared whisper it aloud. William Capers Patrick the third was part of the original US program, which officially drew to a close in the 1960s...The New York Times claimed last December he was the author in 1998 of a secret paper study on the possible effects of anthrax sent through the mail, although he now denies that. ... We went to see Bill Patrick to ask him if he might know the culprit...?
Watts: ?It?s clear from what Bill Patrick told us that he?s been a central figure in the bio-defense community for many years and that he may well have met or come across the person behind the attacks...? Susan Watts talked with Patrick by telephone.
Patrick: ?Most of my discussions about the biological problem have been in secure conferences and meetings, and involve people with need to know, with security clearance and what have you. I don?t talk about ?how to,? I don't get into ?how to? with many people, no people other than those who really have a need to know.?
Watts: ?Does it nag at you in the back of your mind that possibly you do know [the identity of the anthrax terrorist]??
Patrick: ?Possibly, possibly, I could have talked to these people. But it would have been within the context of their having a need to know.?
Watts: ?[Patrick] told me two FBI agents and an official from the attorney general?s office interviewed him for 3 and a half hours two weeks ago. He says they told him he had been a suspect, but left him believing he was in the clear.? To Patrick: ?And just to put on record can I ask you did you perpetrate these attacks???
Patrick: ?My goodness, I did not ....I did not...I?m an American patriot!?
Watts: Patrick was on the UN team that inspected Iraqi weapons facilities in the mid 1990s, and he was surprised the FBI didn?t come to him straight after the attacks, simply because of his expertise. He acknowledges it was only logical to consider him a suspect, but for Patrick, the most likely explanation, or perhaps the most comfortable, is that the powder and the motive originated overseas - in some rogue state...?
Patrick: ?I would hate to think that anyone in our country? would do this to our own people?I want the perpetrator to be caught, but I would rather think that it came from our enemies outside of our own country as opposed to our own people perpetrating this crime against our own.? Watts: ?Bill Patrick is no longer seen as a suspect, but the net is closing around someone at the heart of the US germ warfare program. We now know by piecing together information from well-placed sources that there?s another individual. He?s been interviewed by FBI agents, and remains under widespread suspicion...But he?s no loner. He?s likely to have worked on a key government project in the past and to have a network of friends and colleagues he can rely on. The possibility that more than one person is involved may answer some of the perplexing geographical questions about where the attacks originated.? Dr. Ronald Atlas: ?I think that the significance of focusing on a group is that you can have one person with the expertise to produce this weaponized anthrax and someone else to actually deliver it to Trenton. I think that a large part of the investigation early on focused on an individual. As such we would ask the question, could that individual have gotten to New Jersey? If you begin to think that it could have involved two or more, then the alibi of an individual that I was not near New Jersey may in fact fall apart and you could look at someone else delivering it...?
Watts: ?The private contractor companies linked to the military and jokingly referred to as ?beltway bandits? because they?re sprinkled around the Washington beltway, is where individuals with the right mix of skills might be working. Some of these contractors are now known to have been involved in classified bio-defense projects?One -- run by the contractor -- Battelle was to create genetically altered anthrax. The question now is -- are there more such projects??
Leitenberg: ?Now we?ve discovered that the CIA is in this business too, though presumably only through contractors. But we don?t know how many contractors. One contractor is now publicly disclosed, Battelle, that did one of those projects. There may be other contractors?we don?t know how many contractors, we don?t know how many projects.?
Watts: ?Dr. Rosenberg is making the astonishing suggestion that there may have been a deadly follow-up by somebody else. Last time she questioned the investigation, she was attacked by the FBI and the White House. But she says she?s prepared to speak out again because she's so afraid of what might happen next.?
Rosenberg: ?This person?knows a lot about forensic matters, knows exactly what he can be prosecuted for and what he can get away with and I think he had some personal matters that he might have wanted to settle but I think in addition that he felt that biodefense was being under-emphasized for some time in the past?I think the time is rapidly coming when it will be very important to bring him to trial, even if they don?t think they have sufficient evidence. This might at least, if not result in a criminal conviction, make it possible to bring civil charges somewhat like what happened to O.J. Simpson in the past. So I think it?s time to start moving because it?s very important from the point of view of deterrence of any possible future terrorist.?
Watts: ?America?s desire to protect its biodefense program from scrutiny at all costs was part of why it walked away from an international agreement to control biological weapons last summer. Could its near obsessive secrecy have come home to roost-- breeding a climate that allowed one of its experts to take a step too far and turn bio-terrorist against his own??
We have a question of our own: Why didn?t we get this information on our own news shows, here in the U.S.?
See earlier news article, ?Anthrax Terrorist Identified?But Who Is He?? click here.
To read the complete transcript of the Newsnight show,click here.
Curtis Mowry and other scientists at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, N.M., think the key to better, faster and lighter anthrax detectors may lie in the bacteria?s ?fame,? which stands for ?fatty acid methyl esters??chemical gases that are released from the cell walls of all living organisms, including bacteria.
?Lots of people have been working on fatty acid profiles of bacteria to help identify them,? says Mowry. This research has helped him develop a new type of portable detector that can potentially identify anthrax spores.
The detector contains 3 computer chips that were developed at Sandia for FAME analysis. Mowry?s detector would collect samples of air and concentrate the tiny particles onto the first chip, called the pyrolizer. A chemical agent is add to the particles in the sample and then flash-heated by the pyrolizer to 500 degrees Celsius. As the sample is heated, any living cells in the sample, such as anthrax spores, release their fatty acids as FAME gases. The second chip, a gas chromatographer, would then separate out the gases based on the different types of FAME gases that are released.
A third chip called the surface acoustic wave analyzer, records the amount and time of each type of FAME gas emitted. This data produces a pattern that can be matched against a database of known unique FAME gas patterns and help identify the material in the sample.
No longer would operatives in heavy protective suits have to go in and remove the suspected powder for testing, while the people who have been exposed wait anxiously for test results. The new anthrax detector will be portable and can identify anthrax in about 5 minutes. Current means of detecting anthrax take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few months.
The detectors would also be easy to make, so every post office in the nation could have one. ?There?s nothing strange about the manufacturing needs or how the chips are made,? says Mowry. ?They?re made with standard industry methods.?
Mowry hopes to have a sample unit available within a year. ?In two years we can certainly have a unit we can field test,? he says. ?With all of the events, we?re trying to accelerate this as much as we can.?
Other scientists are skeptical about the efficiency of the detector. ?The question is how many anthrax spores have to be in the air for the device to detect it,? says Dan Imre, a chemist in the atmospheric sciences division at Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island, N.Y. ?If you [have to] have to have a concentration that kills you a hundred times over, then that?s not good.?
Are you prepared for the future? Read ?No Such Thing as Doomsday? by Philip Hoag, click here.
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