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Last Updated

27 Jun 2003

Source: Newsday, June 25, 2003

Huge sieve strains muck in anthrax search

FREDERICK, Md. -- Investigators looking for clues to the 2001 anthrax attacks appeared to be using a giant sieve to strain muck scooped from the bottom of a drained woodland pond, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The device resembled a boxing ring, The Frederick News-Post reported. Eight workers in brightly colored safety vests and hard hats stood inside it Tuesday and used rakes to comb through loads of mud dumped by a steam shovel.

The FBI had the one-acre pond drained June 9 as part of its investigation into the anthrax-laced letters that killed five and sickened 17 in the fall of 2001.

The pond is in the Frederick Municipal Forest, a watershed that provides some of drinking water for the nearby city of Frederick. The search poses no threat to the city's water quality, city officials have said.

The pond search will likely end by the end of this week or early next week, city spokeswoman Nancy Poss said Thursday after conferring with Frederick City Police Chief Kim Dine, who gets regular FBI briefings on the project. Once the search is done, it will take a contractor about a week to restore the site, Poss said.

The pond is of special interest because of items retrieved from its depths last winter. The Washington Post first reported May 11 that divers recovered items including a clear box with holes that could accommodate gloves. Also recovered were vials wrapped in plastic.

Several FBI and Justice Department officials have told The Associated Press, speaking on condition on anonymity, that investigators think someone could have used these items to safely place anthrax in envelopes. Testing of the items has not produced definitive evidence of anthrax contamination, these officials said.

The pond is eight miles from the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, the primary custodian of the strain of anthrax found in envelopes sent to the victims.

The FBI has described Steven Hatfill, a biological weapons expert who formerly worked as a researcher at the institute, as a "person of interest" in the investigation. Hatfill has denied any involvement in the attacks.