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Last Updated

29 Jun 2003

Source:  ABC News, April 4, 2002.

FBI Believes Anthrax Sender Could Be U.S. Scientist

By Brian Ross

April 4 -- Six months after the government first said a man in Florida was sick with anthrax (case 5), which later killed five people and set off a nationwide panic, federal investigators say they have no suspects and few clues.

But what they do have is a fear that the person responsible could be one of the very government scientists they have relied on for help, and a concern that the U.S. military is not telling them everything about secret anthrax research programs.

The FBI asked for the help of Dr. Ken Alibek almost immediately because no one in the world has made more weapons-grade anthrax than he has.

Until he defected 10 years ago, Alibek ran the secret Soviet and Russian anthrax program and says he has the expertise to make the material that was sent in the American anthrax letters. "Yes, it would be easy to do," he said.

Now Alibek tells ABCNEWS he and a number of other scientists were told last month they must take lie detector tests if they wanted to continue to help the FBI. He confirmed he had to answer questions including "Did you do it?" and "Do you know who did it?"

Alibek said he passed the test.

FBI Believes Person Responsible Is U.S. Scientist

The FBI continues to believe the person responsible for the anthrax attacks is likely a current or former U.S. scientist, perhaps a prominent one.

Federal investigators say Alibek is one of at least a dozen such individuals, many who worked in the bioweapons research program at Ft. Detrick, Md., have been given and passed lie detector tests.

"There are very few people who have this technical skill," said Dr. David Franz, the former bioweapons commander at Ft. Detrick. "And that's, in my mind, what makes this a very small group of potential perpetrators."

But federal investigators tell ABCNEWS that military and intelligence agencies have withheld a full listing of all facilities and all employees dealing with top-secret anthrax programs where important leads could be found.

"We're talking here about laboratories where, in fact, the material that we know was in the Daschle letter and in the Leahy  letter could have been produced," said Jeanne Guillemin, a professor of biological and weapons studies at MIT and author of the book Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak. "And I think that's what the FBI is still trying to find out."

Military officials have said they are fully cooperating but investigators say the criminal investigation has come up now against some closely held military secrets which are slowing down the pursuit for the "anthrax killer."

Wake-Up Call For Bioterrerorism Research

But there are some people connected to the U.S. bioweapons program who think the anthrax attacks, which claimed the lives of five people, provided a much needed wake-up call, including the former bioweapons commander Franz.

"I think a lot of good has come from it," he told ABNCEWS. "From a biological or a medical standpoint, we've now five people who have died, but we've put about $6 billion in our [2003] budget into defending against bioterrorism."

But for the families of the five people who died, it is cold comfort.

"It's a tragedy," said Franz. "That's true in war; that's true in any tragedy."