When he was President, George Bush, Sr., considered using nuclear weapons against Iraq if Saddam Hussein resorted to biological warfare.
The form of anthrax found in a letter to Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle is one of its most potent forms and most likely came from expert terrorists. Daschle says FBI investigators concluded that the anthrax strain was ?a very potent form of anthrax that clearly was produced by someone who knew what he or she was doing.? Weapons experts say this suggests that somewhere, someone has access to the sort of germ weapons capable of inflicting huge casualties.
The powdered form of anthrax was refined enough to disperse easily through the air, increasing its potential as a deadly weapon. More than 29 people in Senator Daschle?s office have so far tested positive for exposure to anthrax. So far, the amount of anthrax available to the terrorists is unknown. But there is concern that someone with even a small quantity could easily find much more effective means of spreading the disease than sending it to people in letters. They may already have done so, given that there was no apparent letter involved with the anthrax that appeared in the offices of ABC World News Tonight.
The FBI has said that the handwriting was the same on the letters sent to Daschle and to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. Both contained the messages ?Death to America? and ?God is great.?
Government Officials originally assumed that the anthrax being sent around the country was composed mostly of large particles that would fall to the ground, endangering mainly people in the immediate area. But the anthrax sent to Mr. Daschle was finely milled so that it would float a great distance on small air currents. The anthrax is so fine that it probably entered the capitol’s ventilation systems.
Michael Powers of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute says that the sophistication of the anthrax strain suggests ?high level? expertise. ?Usually to produce that quality of anthrax requires a fairly high level of technological sophistication, which to my mind indicates some sort of state sponsorship.?
Several decades ago, both Soviet and American scientists devised methods of drying and grinding anthrax into tiny particles of five microns or less that could easily enter the nostrils and lodge in the lungs. However, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that the anthrax could not have come from inside the U.S. because our anthrax supplies were destroyed as part of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. At least ten other countries still have access to biological agents, including Iraq and Iran.
The Soviet Union also signed the pact to destroy biological weapons, but they cheated on a massive scale, according to former Soviet officials who worked on the project until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. In the 1980s, other nations, especially Iraq, began developing anthrax as a weapon. Iraqi scientists spent more than five years cultivating anthrax and processing it into a form that could be loaded into bombs and missiles. Drying anthrax creates particles that stick together, and most of them are far too large to use in an aerosol spray. Grinding the material to a small, uniform size without damaging a significant portion of the germs is not easily done, former American and Soviet germ scientists say.
U.S. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge says there is not yet ?credible evidence? to link the anthrax attacks to Osama Bin Laden, ?but… we ought to operate under the presumption that it is.?
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that perpetrators of phony scares will be prosecuted because ?They create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern.? In Florida, a 33-year-old Lee County Jail inmate faces up to 75 years in prison and a $50,000 fine after being charged with sending out letters that he claimed contained anthrax spores. Convicted robber Colin Perry is accused of writing five letters containing a white powdery substance and warning the recipients they were now infected by anthrax. Two men in Connecticut were also formally indicted on charges of making false anthrax threats. Frederick Forcellina allegedly threatened to use a weapon of mass destruction in three Connecticut towns. Ashcroft says that another man, Joseph Faryniarz, has been charged with making false statements connected to a scare in the state?s Department of Health and Protection.
Victims of an anthrax attack from a fine powder can still be treated with antibiotics, as long as doctors and public health officials recognize the germ has been dispersed at a particular location.
During the Gulf War, George W. Bush?s father, President George Bush, considered using nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein if he launched a biological attack against the U.S. He delivered this warning to Hussein: ?Your country will pay a terrible price if you order unconscionable acts.?
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