CASE CLOSED … what really happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks?

Archive for April 2nd, 2010

* would it have been difficult to take advantage of lax controls over the autoclave process to steal anthrax from Ft. Detrick? consider this fictional excerpt from the novel CASE CLOSED

Posted by DXer on April 2, 2010

DXer’s recent comment …

Yes, as for how it would be done, interviewees all agree it would be a very simple matter.  Some laid out alternative scenarios – but an example of how easy it would be:  after an aerosol challenge the leftovers were left in garbage bags in the basement for a day or more until being autoclaved.

Extract from CASE CLOSED (by Lew Weinstein) dealing with the opportunity to steal anthrax during the autoclave process

CASE CLOSED, p. 104 …

Meeting with each autoclave operator separately, Rodriquez first reviewed the physical operation and procedures related to decontamination of infectious materials, dutifully taking notes about double locked doors, pass through doors, and triple-bag packaging within the lab. It was on this last point that he focused.

“Are you saying that properly packaged material is not dangerous even before autoclaving?” he asked.

All three employees agreed. If the packaging was secure, there would be no immediate danger to anyone handling it, although it might become dangerous over time, if the packaging deteriorated. How much time? There was no exact consensus, but the choices were weeks or months, not minutes or days.

“Would you be aware,” Rodriquez asked, “if one of the scientists or research assistants in the anthrax lab, after having packaged anthrax for incineration, actually stuck the package in his or her pocket and walked out of the lab with it?”

They all agreed that would be a gross violation of procedure. But could someone slip a thin package into their pocket and just walk out with it? No, they would be seen. What if it was at night, and no one was around?

“Is there video surveillance?” Rodriquez asked.

“There is now,” was the answer.

“But not in 2001?”

“No.”

Agent Rodriquez’ inescapable conclusion was that it would have been shockingly easy for someone to walk undetected from the containment lab at USAMRIID with enough Ames strain powdered anthrax to fill all of the mailed letters. A quantity of material could have been marked for autoclaving and deducted from the inventory of material on hand within the containment room; perhaps some of the material would in fact be autoclaved. A portion, however, would be put into a second package and pocketed. Rodriquez himself would be terrified to do it, but someone used to working with highly infectious materials would probably not give it a second thought.

Other agents interviewed the guards who sat at the front-desk. Of course, they said, we are always vigilant. We always check the contents of briefcases and boxes going out of the facility. The agents didn’t believe them, but it didn’t matter, as subsequent questions revealed.

“Do you ever check their pockets?”

Each guard who was asked this question at first hesitated. Some looked up at the video surveillance cameras above them. All then admitted they never actually searched anyone’s pockets.

“Do you know what would happen if I frisked one of our scientists?” one guard asked. “All hell would break loose. I’d probably be fired. Especially if it was a woman.”

“Even now?”

An affirmative nod.

Other agents got similar answers at other labs. The conclusion was inescapable and terrifying; there were no effective controls over powdered anthrax in 2001, at USAMRIID or anywhere else.

******

The New York Times says the FBI’s anthrax case has “too many loose ends.” Find out where some of those looses ends might have originated in my novel CASE CLOSED.

Sure it’s fiction, but many readers, including a highly respected member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, think my premise is actually “quite plausible.”

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* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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