Cheers, Ken Hanly
Strain used in attacks likely made by U.S.: report 'It isn't rocket science'
Margaret Munro National Post
Thursday, October 25, 2001
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The bacteria used for the U.S. anthrax attacks is either the strain the American military used to produce anthrax weapons in the 1960s, or close to it, according to a British science magazine.
It is not a strain that Iraq or the former Soviet Union mass-produced for weapons, says the latest issue of New Scientist, which quotes Ken Alibek, former deputy head of the Soviet bioweapons program.
U.S. authorities have said the anthrax isolated so far from the contaminated letters sent to Florida, NBC and Senator Tom Daschle were the same strain. They have described it as a domestic strain similar to a highly virulent Ames strain, which was discovered in Iowa.
The standard Ames strain is also the one the U.S. used when it produced anthrax weapons, New Scientist says. The anthrax mass-produced for the weapons program was destroyed after the program ended in 1969 but some of the microbe was kept in scientific collections and may have found its way into the hands of terrorists.
Mr. Alibek says samples were kept in the U.S. and elsewhere. ''The South African collection had hundreds of different strains,'' he says. Alikek also notes that Wouter Basson, former head of the South African bioweapons program, reportedly visited Libya after the fall of the apartheid government in 1994.
The Soviets did not mass-produce the Ames strain, Mr. Alibek says. Iraq favoured the Vollum strain, which has been identified in samples from its Al Hakam bacterial fermentation plant.
Ames has proven virulence and is more likely than other strains to cause anthrax in animals immunized with standard U.S. anthrax vaccine, which is now being given to U.S. troops, the report says.
The tiny anthrax particles used in the U.S. attacks were reportedly milled down to a few micrometres. Mr. Alibek says such milling can be done with equipment that is readily available. ''It isn't rocket science,'' he is quoted as saying.
The U.S. attacks have caused relatively few inhalation cases so far. This suggests the spores were not blended with anti-caking chemicals to promote airborne spread, which Mr. Alibek says is the real secret of weaponizing anthrax. He suspects the attackers do not have much material to work with.
This week, a United Nations biological weapons inspector reported that Iraq purchased eight strains of anthrax from a U.S. company and admitted turning them into weapons.
David Kelly, a former British Foreign Office expert who led 37 UN biological weapons inspections of Iraq in the 1990s, said the Virginia-based American Type Culture Collection company admitted selling the anthrax to Saddam Hussein's government in 1985.
But Mr. Kelly said he did not believe the strain tentatively identified in the Florida, New York and Washington cases was among the eight Iraq purchased.
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