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Senate anthrax powder: State of the art


My 4 Dec 2003 note has renewed relevance now that Amerithrax investigators are said to be "at a "critical" and "sensitive" stage and could unearth significant leads by early July."

Gary Matsumoto's article in Science magazine,
"Anthrax Powder: State of the Art?" drew together many threads -- especially over recent months with regards to nanoglass technology used in computer chip manufacture, specialty paints and pigments -- to paint a picture of supreme skill and manufacturing prowess in the making of the anthrax used in 2001 against the Senate office building.

[Note that while the article is subscription-based, it has been mirrored at sites such as url1 and url2.  Cryptome has html text version -- smaller than the pdf but no photos.]

Even by hardened WMD standards, the Senate weaponized anthrax was off the charts in lethality. As great a master as D.A. Henderson said, "It just didn’t have to be that good" to be lethal.

The problem was not just how lethal it was, how leading edge it was, who could make it (here or offshore), but how its lethality could be obscured, even denied, for so long.

Early in the investigation, the FBI voiced the view of a consensus of military and civilian biodefense specialists that only a sophisticated lab could have produced the material, that it was "weapons-grade" of exceptionally high spore concentration, uniform particle size, contained silica to reduce clumping, and was electrostatically charged to create an "energetic" aerosol.

Then the FBI about faced to the opinion that the material could have been made by a knowledgeable person or persons with run-of-the-mill lab equipment on a modest budget. Now the anthrax contained no additives, had large particles, agglomerates (lumps), substandard milling. The prince had turned into a toad.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), however, would not back off and reported that its mass spectrometry analysis found extraordinarily high silica counts in the anthrax.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department locked onto a "person of interest": Steven J. Hatfill, a virologist and physician who conducted Ebola research at Fort Detrick, Maryland (which houses the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). Leaks to the media did everything but convict Hatfill as FBI and Justice pursued the idea that an individual or small group with limited means could have produced it.

One of the FBI’s most senior scientists, Dwight Adams, then makes the claim that the silica in the Senate anthrax had occurred naturally in the organism’s subsurface spore coat. That unfortunately contravenes the body of anthrax knowledge available to many microbiologists.

To support the small/rogue team hypothesis, the FBI charged a skilled team at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, with the effort to produce a similarly high-grade anthrax without silica on a modest budget. No success as the Dugway effort only produced a coarse product that stuck together in little cakes.

The Senate anthrax is now revealed to be more advanced than any known weaponized product in US or Russian inventory -- it is the unclass, world-class state of the art in anthrax as it contains:

(1) Virulent Ames strain of anthrax

(2) Extraordinarily high spore concentration

(3) Uniform particle size

(4) Silica to reduce clumping

(5) Polymerized glass (nanoglass) coating to anchor the silica to the anthrax

(6) Electrostatic charge for "energetic" aerosol

It is now believed that this level of weaponization demands equipment worthy of a state-sponsored lab.

It is tantalizing that one of the few firms making "electrohydrodynamic" aerosols for inhalation drug therapy is BattellePharma, Battelle’s pharmaceutical division. Battelle also has a "national security division" that produces bioweapons, performs bioaerosol research, and manages certain US facilities. No "person of interest" has been found at Battelle.

There are now massive questions over the provenance of the Senate anthrax. If it was made in the US, then who, where, and why? If it was made offshore, or sanctioned from overseas, then a state of war should exist.

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Weapons & Technology Public  


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