The DNA sequence of the anthrax sent through the U.S. mail in 2001 has been revealed and confirms suspicions that the bacteria originally came from a U.S. military laboratory.The data released uses codenames for the reference strains against which the attack strain was compared.But it can be revealed that the two strains that are identical to the attack strain most likely originated at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID) for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The research also shows that substantial genetic differences can emerge in two samples of an anthrax culture separated for only three years. This means the attacker’s anthrax was not separated from the other anthrax at USAMRIID for long and was therefore acquired relatively recently.
The new genetic sequencing work was done by the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland (TIGR), and Paul Keim’s team at the University of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff. Before the attacks, TIGR had already started sequencing a non-pathogenic derivative of the “Ames” strain of anthrax from the U.K. biodefense establishment for research purposes, so in January, TIGR added the bacteria isolated from the first victim of the attack, Florida journalist Robert Stevens, to its sequencing effort. The idea was to find subtle differences between the two genomes that might identify the source of the attack strain.
The teams found plenty of differences between the two strains. They then took these “marker” stretches of DNA and tested them against five other samples of Ames anthrax, looking for differences, or incriminating similarities.
One strain, from a goat that died of anthrax in Texas in 1997, differed at four markers, proving that the markers can reveal divergence among anthrax batches. But none of the other four – identified only as A, B, C and D – differed substantially from the attack strain, revealing that they were variations on the Ames strain developed by the U.S. military.
A and D did differ at one marker, one of the two DNA plasmids that make anthrax such a potent killer, meaning strain A can be ruled out as the attack strain.
The identity of the strains apparently identical to the attack strain – B and C – and strain D can then be identified. Keim says, “We can distinguish among different Ames accessions. These are from collaborative laboratories and related to genetic work we have been performing over the years.”
The strains from the these labs appear certain to be strains B, C and D. In that case, B was the strain that came from the U.K., which was kept in a freezer at Porton Down laboratories in England, which it originally received from USAMRIID. C was a culture that came directly from USAMRIID, and D was from the U.S. Army’s Dugway proving ground in Utah.
The difference between D and the attack strain is not great – there are 36 alanines in a row, instead of 35 – but Keim’s team made sure by sequencing that part of the D strain’s genome.
The new research does not prove irrefutably that the attacker got his anthrax directly from USAMRIID because it is possible that untested Ames cultures from other labs might also be identical, but it definitely points that way. It does make it extremely doubtful that the anthrax came from Russian laboratories or from Iraq.
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The Federal Reserve says that about 20 pieces of mail tested positive for traces of anthrax in an initial screening. The tainted mail was discovered as part of routine mail testing in a mobile trailer stationed in a courtyard at the Federal Reserve’s main buildings in downtown Washington.
The mail did not contain powderlike substances or handwritten addresses. Such preliminary tests often are inaccurate and further tests are being conducted. “The affected mail was routine commercial and business mail and did not have any of the characteristics identified by the FBI as suspicious,” authorities say.
The Federal Reserve does not have information on where the mail originated or where it was processed. All mail addressed to the federal government is irradiated to kill any possible anthrax, but even the presence of dead spores could produce an initial positive reading.
Some of the mail was addressed to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan as well as other officials, acccording to spokesman David Skidmore, who says the 20 pieces of mail were “fairly recent” with postmarks of April or May. Swabs that produced the positive readings will be sent to a laboratory for additional testing.
“There is a very real possibility this could have been traces on some piece of equipment,” U.S. Postal Inspector Daniel L. Mihalko says. “Until the very detailed culture tests come back, we’ll have to wait and see. It could be mail that rubbed against something at an outside location.”
None of the letters looked similar to the threatening notes sent last year to media organizations and Capitol Hill. “The source of the possible contamination is not known,” the Fed says. “Subsequent tests of mailroom surfaces and mail distribution points within the board’s buildings have all been negative.”
The Federal Reserve also had positive initial test readings for a batch of mail received in December. However extensive follow-up tests never found any new letters containing anthrax.
Listen to a dynamic report by Wayne Madsen about anthrax and the CIA on Dreamland, Saturday, May 11, starting 6 pm Pacific, on your Premiere AM radio station. To read his Insight piece, ?Anthrax & the Agency?, click here.
Think the truth about anthrax terrorism was covered up by the media? Read ?Into the Buzzsaw? by Kristina Borjesson,click here.
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