FBI HONES IN ON MILITARY LABS IN HUNT FOR SOURCE OF ANTHRAX



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08 Jan 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2002.

AFTERMATH OF TERROR

FBI Hones In on Military Labs In Hunt for Source of Anthrax

By ANTONIO REGALADO, GARY FIELDS and MARK SCHOOFS, Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is making U.S. military laboratories the primary focus of its anthrax investigation, said senior law-enforcement officials close to the case.

While it has been reported that the FBI plans to use genetic fingerprinting and other scientific analyses to narrow down the labs most likely to have been the source of the anthrax bacterium used in the terror attacks, it has become clear that investigators are looking first at military labs, at least for now.

See full coverage of the Aftermath of Terror.

While investigators haven't ruled out anybody, university-based laboratories that study the biology of the bacterium have emerged as a lower priority. Officials at several schools said FBI agents hadn't been pursuing investigations or interviews on campus this year.

People inside the FBI have confirmed that the agency is taking a tiered approach toward U.S. laboratories believed to possess the know-how to produce anthrax, especially weapons-grade anthrax. The highest priority laboratories include military facilities where anthrax was both stored and processed into more deadly forms.

While many expert observers already believed that military laboratories and contractors were the focal points of the probe, FBI officials previously have been extremely tight-lipped about this aspect of the case.

FBI officials confirmed that under the tiered approach, investigators would be focusing first on security plans, staff and former staff members at military facilities known to handle anthrax, including the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, Md., and the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

It is already known that Dugway scientists had produced anthrax in its most deadly powdered form. Similar technology was likely used to produce the spore-laden letters sent to Capitol Hill. Experts have termed the anthrax contained in those letters, sent to Senators Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) and Patrick Leahy, (D., Vt.) as "weapons grade."

The FBI is collecting anthrax samples from labs to compare them against the anthrax sent in the terror mailings last fall. The Ames strain was the type of anthrax mailed to Sens. Daschle and Leahy, as well as New York and Florida media organizations, killing five people and sickening more than a dozen.

Dugway officials declined to comment on the investigation, referring questions to the Pentagon. A Department of the Army spokeswoman said that Dugway and other military facilities were cooperating with law-enforcement authorities and had addressed all of the FBI's requests. A spokeswoman for Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, a private military contractor, which used anthrax as part of its development of a vaccine and detection devices, also declined to say it if had been asked to provide a sample.

"We have provided all the information and materials that have been requested by law enforcement," said Katy Delaney.