Anthrax Revisited

Derek Lowe has an interesting piece looking back at the anthrax attacks of 2001. He examines the shifting story we’re getting for the FBI in regards to the nature and composition of the anthrax as well as the level of weaponization. It seems clear that the anthrax investigation has let precisely nowhere after 2 and a half years, which only highlights how our defenses against bioterrorism need to be improved.

The idea that the anthrax spores could have been created by some amateur seems less and less likely. To create such anthrax one would need access to a sizeable amount of advanced lab technology. An anomalous sale of such items would raise more than a few red flags, and the materials necessary to weaponize a highly-infectious disease aren’t exactly things one can pick up at Ikea.

It seems that the only source that seems feasible is a lab with considerable resources. It’s possible that the anthrax is a former Soviet bioweapon – the Soviets did do experiments with anthrax bacteria throughout the Cold War including advanced weaponization.

Of course, Iraq isn’t out of the question either. The UN report that indicated that Iraq had used bentonite for anthrax weaponization but also possessed the ability to use silica as well – just as the strain used in the attacks was reportedly treated with. Silica would prevent the particles from clumping and make the powder spread farther. (Indeed there were rumors that the anthrax used in the attacks was so finely weaponized that it managed to crawl up the glass walls of test tubes and stick to the rubber stoppers at the top.) The anthrax could very well have been produced by an Iraqi weapons facility either recently or before the first Gulf War.

It is clear that the anthrax attacks show that our nation is vulnerable to such attacks and the attackers have a reasonable chance of getting away scott free as the 2001 attackers certainly did. While there is some intreguing circumstantial evidence that the September 11 attacks and the anthrax attacks are related, the real culprit of the first major bioterrorist attack on US soil remains a mystery.

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