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Return of the Killer A's
September 25, 2006 4:18 PM   Subscribe

FBI is Casting a Wider Net in Anthrax Attacks "The strain of anthrax used in the attacks has turned out to be more common than was initially believed" and wasn't weaponized, and there's now "an almost endless list of possible suspects in scores of countries around the globe." FBI microbiologist Douglas Beecher wrote an analysis [PDF] that says, "A widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production." More comments on Beecher's findings from other biologists. [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (56 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just last week, the agent who'd been leading the investigation for four years was reassigned and law enforcement officals told CBS News that the anthrax investigation could be declared a cold case, prompting the FBI to issue a statement on the status of the investigation (which basically just says "nuh-uh").

Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks has lots of information.

Although President Bush recently claimed that "our enemies have not succeeded in launching another attack on our soil," on November 3, 2001, he described the anthrax attacks as "a second wave of terrorist attacks upon our country."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2006


This is such a crock--- it was MAILED. Did the mail have airmail stamps??? Foreign postmarks???

They're not even looking.
posted by amberglow at 4:20 PM on September 25, 2006


I always thought that when Bush was saying there hadn't been any more successful terror attacks on US soil he was considering the anthrax letters to be "a mulligan."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:27 PM on September 25, 2006


It took them 5 years to figure that out? I guess it is much scarier if people know anyone can make this stuff.

"Cultivating anthrax spores can take minimal equipment and a first-year collegiate microbiological education."
posted by Mr_Zero at 4:36 PM on September 25, 2006


NPR's "All Things Considered" -- New Angles Emerge in Anthrax Attacks of 2001.
posted by ericb at 4:39 PM on September 25, 2006


If by mulligan you mean "a terrorist attack that killed five people," and the attackers were never brought to justice by ths administration, I guess I see your point.
posted by bardic at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2006


Note to self: No more sternly worded missives sent off to my duly elected representatives on tequila and taco night.
posted by loquacious at 4:44 PM on September 25, 2006


the strain of anthrax used in the attacks has turned out to be more common than was initially believed

I too am boggled that took 5 years to figure out. I would guess it should take weeks, not months or years ...
posted by mrgrimm at 4:48 PM on September 25, 2006


This administration is not actually interested in fighting terrorism. It's just a smokescreen to gain power.
posted by Malor at 4:51 PM on September 25, 2006


Man, I remember Anthrax. Remember that track they did with Public Enemy? That was the shit! Remember when the government investigated them? I think their album ended up getting banned!

Oh wait, this is a slightly more recent, yet still long-forgotten anthrax. The one the government didn't do shit about.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 4:58 PM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh uhm it's election time again ? Yawn, ok ok I know...*scratch*

YOU SHOULD BE SCARED, remember ?

Yeah ladies and gentleman, scared silly and disconcerted, without an orientation, looking for a fine leader with an excellent track record of doing something about.. that ! Yes we still can't do much about a lot else , like

1. meteorities falling on your head
2. your dog biting the bawls of your landowner's dog
3. food poisoning
4. natural death
5. DUI , car crash, plane crash and expecially the deadly recumbent bycicle crash, the nastiest of em all ! Expecially if you wear an helmet !
6. your spouse cheating you with your best ex friend who is also your boss who just fired you to fix the budget and just got a bonus that used to buy the house you lost went you went bankrupt because of your spouse. Did I mention your daughter just aborted the pastor' son, who is also your brother ?

Hell YEAH ! We spent inordinate, incredible, valuable, precious billions of dollars to defend you from that bearded Osama guy. YES we got you covered like a jimmyhead !

BUT YOU MUST BE SCARED of anthrax !
posted by elpapacito at 5:03 PM on September 25, 2006


Haven't we known that Dr. Philip Zack did it all along?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:05 PM on September 25, 2006


I too am boggled that took 5 years to figure out. I would guess it should take weeks, not months or years ...

What makes you believe that the didn't know it weeks or months after it happened?
posted by bob sarabia at 5:11 PM on September 25, 2006


that they didn't
posted by bob sarabia at 5:11 PM on September 25, 2006


Bacillus anthracis is found in the soil nearly everywhere, and its spores can grow after laying around for decades. I think it's a bit useless to worry over it excessively.

I remember that after this, they weren't letting people carry sealed envelopes into the congressional buildings. Because, you know, you can't carry it any other way. They made me go outside and open a signed recommendation envelope, which they wouldn't have even seen if it hadn't been in on top of a stack of files I was carrying. It made no sense, but it made people feel better, I suppose.
posted by zennie at 5:15 PM on September 25, 2006


"Cultivating anthrax spores can take minimal equipment and a first-year collegiate microbiological education."

And millions of liberal-arts majors, now safely above suspicion, breathe a sigh of relief.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:16 PM on September 25, 2006


I don't know how scared of this I should be.

If only someone could come up with a convenient colour-coded chart advising of the appropriate level of fear....
posted by pompomtom at 5:35 PM on September 25, 2006


And as an extra added bonus, it puts anthrax back in the headlines right before another election.

Great title btw.

Man, I remember Anthrax. Remember that track they did with Public Enemy? That was the shit!


/Derail: Bring the Noise was indeed great, but their best stuff came later when they got John Bush as a singer.
posted by quin at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2006



posted by ericb at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2006


Just last week, the agent who'd been leading the investigation for four years was reassigned

Well, it's not exactly like he was doing a stellar job.
posted by smackfu at 6:00 PM on September 25, 2006


"I don't know how scared of this I should be.

If only someone could come up with a convenient colour-coded chart advising of the appropriate level of fear...."


I wouldn't worry about it, unless you're a Democratic congressperson or a part of the liberal media conspiracy, you probably won't be targeted.
posted by stenseng at 6:07 PM on September 25, 2006


It took them 5 years to figure that out? I guess it is much scarier if people know anyone can make this stuff.

"Cultivating anthrax spores can take minimal equipment and a first-year collegiate microbiological education."


No, we're still in the age where people believe in consolidating and wiping out their enemies. The fearmongering is always aimed toward a dedicated, skilled, identifiable enemy. If anybody can do it, we might have to try to, I don't know, not piss anyone off.
posted by dreamsign at 6:15 PM on September 25, 2006


Sit down, got another letter to write,
Think hard, got to get it just right
Hear the ringing of the telephone oh no,
Got to write a little later

No such thing as tomorrow
Only one, two, three, go!

Time, got the time tick tick tickin in my head
Time, got the time tick tick tickin in my head
Time, got the time tick tick tickin in my head
Tickin in my head, tickin in my head, tickin in my head

yeah yeah, it's Joe Jackson who wrote it, but Anthrax made it good.
posted by furtive at 6:17 PM on September 25, 2006


Dude, my friend just told me Anthrax have a side project called Nuclear Assault. No, this doesn't bode well at all!
posted by furtive at 6:19 PM on September 25, 2006


Never heard the Anthrax version, but the original is fucking GREAT.

Look Sharp is a hot ass album.
posted by stenseng at 6:21 PM on September 25, 2006


I blame John Mark Karr.
posted by bardic at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2006


Dude, my friend just told me Anthrax have a side project called Nuclear Assault. No, this doesn't bode well at all!

Not only that, another side project was Soldiers of Death.

We are so totally screwed.
posted by quin at 6:39 PM on September 25, 2006


Oh well crap, that of course is Stormtroopers of Death. (I have no idea how when my mind said Stormtroopers my fingers typed Soldiers.

Stupid fingers.

Anyways, Stormtroopers are way scarier than soldiers, so I'm upgrading us from 'screwed' to 'doomed.'
posted by quin at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2006


Remember when Clinton wanted to "Grow" the economy? Well, made apparent by his actions, Bush wants to "Grow" the terrorism. Any why not? It sure is a profitable market!
posted by snsranch at 6:52 PM on September 25, 2006


What I'd like to know is if the anthrax threat was so successful then why did they stop? Limited resources? Too much attention?
posted by furtive at 7:00 PM on September 25, 2006


It's only terrorism if a brown person does it.
posted by bardic at 7:06 PM on September 25, 2006


It is apparently not that hard to make ricin, either, most unauthorized ricin incidents were made by militia-type guys in America.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:34 PM on September 25, 2006


This new theory is garbage propaganda from an incompetent administration trying to rewrite history; PCR analysis of the original samples showed it was the Ames strain, one of many to go missing from the US Fort Detrick military labs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:06 PM on September 25, 2006


It's only terrorism if a brown person does it.

Indeed.
posted by homunculus at 8:23 PM on September 25, 2006


It made no sense, but it made people feel better

100 years from now, this statement will end each and every textbook description of security-related policy changes made by the Bush Administration.
posted by aaronetc at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2006


They know exactly who sent the anthrax. I'm sure they have paystubs for him.
posted by nightchrome at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2006


Blazecock: The Washington Post article does not dispute that the anthrax used in the attack was the Ames strain. The article says that lead turns out to not be very useful because the Ames strain can be found in many more labs than was previously thought. You're right, the horse is out of the barn with the Ames strain, but that does not mean history is being rewritten. Conventional thinking, that this line of bacteria was secure, proved to be wrong.

"Ames was available in the Soviet Union," said former Soviet bioweapons scientist Sergei Popov, now a biodefense expert at George Mason University. "It could have come from anywhere in the world."
posted by peeedro at 8:48 PM on September 25, 2006


What's so strange about the anthrax attacks is that they stopped. No reason for that.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:02 PM on September 25, 2006


Maybe the guy making it in a unabomber-esque shack accidently killed himself.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:08 PM on September 25, 2006


What's so strange about the anthrax attacks is that they stopped. No reason for that.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:02 PM CST on September 25 [+] [!]


Agreed.

The only logical explanation is that it was a red herring of sorts.

Could you imagine in 2001 if they completely paralyzed the US Mail service? That would have been more devastating financially than the Trade Center attack.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:20 PM on September 25, 2006


Maybe the guy making it in a unabomber-esque shack accidently killed himself.

Justin?


posted by ericb at 9:25 PM on September 25, 2006


I wouldn't worry about it, unless you're a Democratic congressperson or a part of the liberal media conspiracy, you probably won't be targeted.

Or a postal worker. Of the five fatalities, two were postal employees.
posted by faceonmars at 9:31 PM on September 25, 2006


Bacillus anthracis is found in the soil nearly everywhere, and its spores can grow after laying around for decades. I think it's a bit useless to worry over it excessively.

This is incorrect. Anthrax spores are not found nearly everywhere. They are generally only found in areas of grazing animals where other animals have died of anthrax. In most areas of the U.S. anthrax spores have never been found in the soil.

Perhaps you are thinking of Clostridium botulinum spores, the cause of botulism or Clostridium tetani, the cause of tetanus.
posted by JackFlash at 12:16 AM on September 26, 2006


Ynoxas : "The only logical explanation is that it was a red herring of sorts."

There are plenty of logical explanations besides that. It was one crazy guy, and he got busted for some other crime, and is in jail. Or the group of guys who were making it got in a car wreck and died. Or, even, the person sending the letters was sloppy, got a case of the anthrax himself, and died, misdiagnosed.
posted by Bugbread at 1:15 AM on September 26, 2006


I'm not saying it's definitely one of those cases. Just disagreeing that "it was a red herring of sorts" is the only logical explanation.
posted by Bugbread at 2:10 AM on September 26, 2006


Have we all forgotten about the smiley-face mailbox-bomber kid? That whole thing was way better than that anthrax crap.
posted by neckro23 at 3:14 AM on September 26, 2006


YOU SHOULD BE VERY AFRAID ...just rememberin'
posted by elpapacito at 6:31 AM on September 26, 2006


bugbread: Yes you're right, but that assumes it was only one person, and noone else had the ability or desire to copycat.

It would have been absolutely devastating if it stopped, then started again, then stopped, etc.

Could you imagine what life would be like for most major corporations, nevermind individuals if the mail was prone to starting and stopping every few months?

Steal a box of credit card envelopes from a delivery truck, and send out anthrax in those... ESPECIALLY in 2001... it would have been a financial debacle.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:46 AM on September 26, 2006


Ynoxas : "bugbread: Yes you're right, but that assumes it was only one person, and noone else had the ability or desire to copycat."

Yes, but your assumption that it's a red herring also assumes that noone else had the ability or desire to copycat.
posted by Bugbread at 6:49 AM on September 26, 2006


"It is apparently not that hard to make ricin, either, most unauthorized ricin incidents were made by militia-type guys in America."

Yeah, the actual difficulty in making ricin isn't so much the manufacture as the fact that it's really hard to make it without it killing you.
posted by klangklangston at 7:19 AM on September 26, 2006


This story is old. It’s back from when Saddam attacked us on 9/11 and the anti-Christians used the Anthrax to kill Terri Schiavo.
And really, you can use weaponized Anthrax for coffee creamer.
...sorry, lost my mind for a minute there.

“Did the mail have airmail stamps??? Foreign postmarks???”

(Some) was mailed from a mailbox on Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey, by the Princeton U. campus.

By the way, is it Cialis or Cipro you take as a precaution for anthrax attacks?
‘Cause when Dick Cheney and the staff were sitting around on the night of Sept. 11 with Scooter Libby and Bernard Lewis talking about how we’d like to have Aaron Friedberg on the team we all had these raging hard ons. Which was great, but were we protected from anthrax?
...whoops, brain tripped off again. Sorry.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2006


bugbread: Heh. You're right. Then it must be the case that noone else did have the ability or desire to copycat. Which I find fantastic to believe, but there you have it.

So, that returns us to the main point, was it done by some unique individual who was somehow stopped or lost interest, or was it a red herring?

Which seems more likely? That there was only 1 person in the entire nation with the ability and desire to do it, or that it was done by the establishment as a diversion?

Both seem equally unlikely. So how does Occam's razor apply between two equally unlikely choices?
posted by Ynoxas at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2006


Hang on, I thought bush claimed stopping the anthrax attacks as one of the successes for torture?

That said, torture being torture, I bet dozens of brown people have fessed up to being behind it now.
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on September 26, 2006


Ynoxas : "Then it must be the case that noone else did have the ability or desire to copycat. Which I find fantastic to believe, but there you have it."

Personally, my guess is that it's that the big Venn diagram is more complex.

Some people had the desire, but not the ability.
Some had the ability, but not the desire.
Some had the desire and ability, but had other more pressing things on their minds (arguments with city hall about land permits, or messy divorces, or sickness, or any other range of regular life things)
Some had the desire and ability, but not the drive
Some had the desire and ability, but other desires got in the way
Some had the desire and ability, but were/are aiming at higher/bigger targets
Etc., etc.

It's like 911 itself: it never happened before, but that isn't to say that nobody had the desire or ability to do it before then, it was just other factors and influences resulted in it not happening.

That's just my guess.
posted by Bugbread at 9:05 AM on September 26, 2006


This is less of a "Be afraid!" story than an attempt by the FBI to deny that the case is cold.

And the scientists aren't claiming that just anyone could make the stuff. From the Hartford Courant article:
Despite the analysis, Jones said he still believes that the anthrax was produced in a sophisticated laboratory.

"There would be too many quality control issues if someone were making this in their basement," Jones said.

Jones said that the highly refined powder discovered in the Daschle/Leahy letters, which was ground so small that it literally flew off microscopes when experts tried to examine it, would be extremely difficult to produce outside of a controlled laboratory setting and probably was produced by an expert in handling the dangerous germ.
On October 31, 2001, testified to the Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs and the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Service:
USAMRIID reported to the FBI on the afternoon of the 15th the preliminary results indicating that the material was anthrax spores. Further, one of our technicians/scientists made a statement that this material grossly had some attributes consistent with "weaponized" anthrax. On the evening of 15 October, USAMRIID completed the initial battery of confirmatory tests verifying positive results for anthrax. This additional information was relayed to the FBI that evening and was subsequently re-iterated to the FBI and others in an interagency conference call the morning of 16 October. At that time, USAMRIID revisited the term "weaponized" and decided the terms "professionally done" and "energetic" as more appropriate descriptions in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized materials.

On 16 October, USAMRIID began to examine the samples further via transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Initial TEM analysis was performed on hydrated powder. This study revealed that the material was comprised solely of a high concentration of spores without debris or vegetative forms, suggesting this material was refined or processed.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:12 AM on September 26, 2006


Slate on how the Washington Post downplayed its own role in establishing "weaponized" anthrax as the conventional wisdom.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2006


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