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Last Updated

31 Dec 2002

Source: CNN, April 11, 2002.

Official: Unusual coating in anthrax mailings

From Kelli Arena,  CNN Washington Bureau

Washington (CNN) -- Scientists have found a new chemical in the coating on the anthrax spores mailed to journalists and politicians last fall, a high-ranking government official said Wednesday.

The discovery of the unnamed chemical, something scientists are familiar with, was surprising, the official said.

Previously, officials had reported that the coating on the anthrax included silica, which helped the spores not to clump.

The purity, fineness and potency of the anthrax -- particularly that mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont -- makes it highly unlikely that the sender of the letters made and treated the spores in a makeshift setting, according to officials involved in the massive investigation.

"There are only so many people, so many places that this can be done," Van Harp, the assistant FBI director leading the anthrax investigation, said last month.

Officials cautioned Wednesday that a scientist is not necessarily responsible for the anthrax mailings.

Investigators believe the bacteria came from a domestic source, but have not found direct links or made any arrests in the case.

They are also examining whether the person responsible for the anthrax scare worked in a government lab or contracted with the government. Scientists working with the government on the investigation have taken polygraph tests to ensure they were not involved in the mailings.

Five people died of the inhaled form of anthrax and 13 others suffered anthrax infections.

Four letters were recovered in connection with the incidents, and authorities believe at least one other letter -- never found -- passed through the postal system and led to the October 5, 2001, death of a photo editor in Florida, the first fatality.

In addition to those sent to the two Senate offices, anthrax-laced letters were sent to the New York Post and NBC News.

The anthrax incidents -- which subsided after the November death of an elderly widow in Connecticut (case 23) -- prompted significant changes in how the U.S. Postal Service handles and treats the mail, including the installation of new cleaning equipment and irradiation of mail sent to Congress.