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

* 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?”


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.”


* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *


8 Responses to “* 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”

  1. DXer said

    Did CID ever come to be confident in 2009 that the three vials of VEE that were determined to be missing had been destroyed?

    Katherine Heerbrandt
    Cold comfort
    Originally published April 22, 2009

    The Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Meade has been investigating USAMRIID at Fort Detrick since at least early February. Meade’s CID pursues investigations of serious crimes and sensitive subjects of concern to the Army at regional bases like Detrick, which has no internal investigative arm.

    A News-Post story in February reported that USAMRIID was shutting down most of its bioresearch while it tried to match its inventory to its records, citing an “overage” of BSAT, biological select agents and toxins.

    Meade’s CID, however, isn’t concerned with overstock. Instead, agents are looking for what may have gone missing between 1987 and 2008.

    “It’s possible there are some viral samples missing,” at USAMRIID, Fort Meade public affairs officer Chad Jones confirmed in a phone interview Monday.

    “I don’t know anything else. The investigation is ongoing,” he said.

    The investigation into possible missing pathogens began about the same time Col. John P. Skvorak issued a “stand down” memo halting research operations until an updated inventory is complete. The memo made no mention of missing samples.

    A retired support staff employee who worked in the BSL-4 labs received a visit from Fort Mead’s CID agents in February. Agents wanted to know if he’d taken anything out of the lab between 1987 and 2008, and how easy it was for others to remove samples.

    In that time period, thousands could’ve accessed the freezers of deadly and/or infectious viral samples, he told investigators. Specifically, the man reported, CID asked about samples of VEE, Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, VEE is spread to humans by mosquitoes; symptoms range from mild flu-like illness to brain inflammation, coma and death. Mortality rate is one-third, “making it one of the most deadly mosquito-borne diseases in the United States.”

    Another support staff member in the BSL-3 labs left the job a few years ago. In February, he received a message on his answering machine instructing him to call one of two numbers about missing VEE. The phone numbers connected him to Meade’s CID.

    Perhaps we could find solace in the fact that the Army is trying to impose order on the process after more than 20 years, tracking missing viruses and adding others to its database.

    Aside from the obvious — the possibility that deadly viruses may be floating around out there unsecured — two events, however, preclude us from taking one iota of comfort in this scenario: 1) the construction of a greatly expanded biolabs, which means more germs, more people, more risk; and 2) the government’s own admission that the 2001 anthrax murders were an inside job.

    Asked whether he supports an expansion of biolabs at USAMRIID, the former BSL-3 worker said “No.”

    “Not knowing what I know now. With that many people there, things get sloppy.”

    A belief that inventory controls, stricter protocols and psychological screenings will protect the public from USAMRIID’s dangerous pathogens is na?ve. Even Detrick scientists were reportedly upset at the new controls, according to a Feb. 10 AP story, because they don’t suit USAMRIID’s operations.

    Why? Because germ samples can be easily multiplied in the lab and it’s difficult to track them.

    Now that’s comforting.

    Missing USAMRIID Samples No Cause For Worry: Army
    by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on 23 April 2009,

    The three vials that went missing at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland, were likely destroyed with other samples when a freezer malfunctioned, say Army investigators. The vials, containing Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, have been at the center of an Army investigation that came to light yesterday.

    • DXer said

      The CID (and I believe FBI) was investigating a missing vial of VEE prior to 9/11. I believe it was a foreign scientist from New York who took it from USAMRIID. See 302 interview. The CID investigator told the FBI he believed it was a scientist from the Middle East. What were the circumstances of that matter? What were the circumstances of the removal of the vial by the foreign scientist in a manner that prompted the ensuing investigation? (The scientist was barred from USAMRIID).

  2. Ike Solem said

    A fermented culture is necessary for any large-scale anthrax cultivation effort, and even spores collected from agar can be purified, so the agar plate vs. fermentation question isn’t that important – although a lot of agar plates would be needed to get even a gram of purified spores.

    The point here is that there was extensive processing of the product that came out of the fermentation vessel before it became a powder “the color of bleached bone” that “vanished into the air like tendrils of smoke.”

    Anthrax spores are dark brown, not “the color of bleached bone” (which was the description given by the opener of the Daschle letter). The FBI now claims that no additives were used – that the spores were simply collected and dried and ground to a consistent 1-5 micron powder of absolutely pure spores – all done with the equivalent of a mortar and pestle, aka lyophilizer or speed vac (for the details):

    In reality, the fermentation product (already induced to sporulate) must have been purified by some method. Filtration and centrifugation are the most likely guesses there, the standard methods of separating cells, but there are more tricky and efficient methods.

    One the pure wet spores were in hand, they must have been mixed with the chemical additives in liquid solution, then that mixture was pumped through very sophisticated spray-drying equipment into a drying chamber, and there’s your 1-5 um silica-coated anthrax bioweapon.

    You can make all this a lot worse, of course, by putting antibiotic-resistance genes into the anthrax strain, or finding some way to engineer the beastie so that it can evade the immune system – all efforts undertaken by the Soviet Union, and perhaps? replicated by the biological threat assessment program.

    The difficultly involved seems to point to theft of illegally stockpiled material as the means employed in the anthrax mailings.

    So I guess we should be happy it was just anthrax in those letters, and not some brain virus or smallpox…

  3. The Case Closed extract illustrates another reason they want to keep the gag order on. The novel can sometimes give us understanding where simple logic falls short.

    • Lew Weinstein said

      As more hard information is made available in the excruciatingly slow response to FOIA requests, many of my educated guesses, made in the summer of 2008 when I wrote CASE CLOSED, are looking more and more accurate. Which is actually terrifying, as those who have read my novel often attest.

  4. DXer said

    On the Daschle spores, in the 302 interview statement dated 1/23/2002 Dr. Ivins explained that the spores in the Daschle letters were of fermentation quality. The spores were very clean compared to those produced on agar which would contain messy residue.

    Regarding visiting scientists, Ivins recalls on _____________. After a long redaction, it notes that ___ never talked to Ivins specifically about weaponizing B. anthracis nor did ____ mention belonging to any organized hate groups. “However, Ivins felt that __________ .” After a long redaction, he noted that pharma companies would have the expertise to make a dry powder.

    Earlier in the interview he had said “Even the Medical & Research (R&D) Command had no idea Dugway [where the former Zawahiri associate tested his decontamination agent] was working with powdered spores.”

    This former Zawahiri associate worked alongside Ayman’s sister Heba in the Cairo Medical School. She was a pharmacology professor in the microbiology department. Did Bruce ever discuss the anthrax mailings with Dr. Hamouda after they occurred to ask him about Ayman Zawahiri’s plan to use anthrax to retaliate for the rendering of senior EIJ leaders such as brother Muhammad in April 1999?

    Did Dr. Ivins ever ask Tarek if he knew Ayman Zawahiri? Ayman Zawahiri would recruit Tarek’s friends at medical school in a room set aside for that purpose on Fridays when he came to speak. Another of my friends who knew Ayman Zawahiri well- growing up down the street from him — says Ayman is a fanatic and not nearly as reasonable as the other heads of Vanguards of Conquest (EIJ) who graduated Cairo Medical such as Agiza and Al-Sharif. But Ayman was a pragmatic man and at least in 2001 was constrained both by both the hadiths relating to biological weapons and limited availability of an anthrax aerosol. His planning on anthrax was strictly compartmentalized and several different cells were working on the matter unaware of each other. Ayman’s chief of intelligence, Ali Mohammed, also recruited at Cairo Medical in the early 1980s. He for example recruited Dahab and trained Dahab in making lethal letters. Dahab joined him in the US in the Silicon Valley and they personally reported to Bin Laden that they had recruited 10 sleepers.

    One of those recruited Ayman Zawahiri recruited and mentored, “Tawfik” Hamid, has written about his experience in a book titled INSIDE JIHAD, published in May 2008. He consults with the IC and tells me he called his lifelong friend, Tarek Hamouda, before 911 to ask about patents. Tarek said it was all in the marketing. Ken Kohl nor Rachel Carlson Lieber understandably had not read the book when they wrote that nonsense in the Investigative Summary. It did not come out until May 2008. But the record disclosed shows that the FBI did not even obtain the 20 pages of documents relating to Dr. Hamouda’s visit until February 2005. That speaks volumes.

    The DOJ has not disclosed the forensic report showing that the photocopier the DOJ alleges Ivins used was not a match for the toner. Anyone standing in the way of it being produced or delaying its production should be fired.

    The DOJ should produce the handwritten notes that Dr. Ivins made on 5 days that the DOJ speculates, without basis, that he was making powderized anthrax. Anyone standing in the way of it being produced or delaying its production should be fired.

    All records relating to the Macintosh computer that was in the hot suite in any way relating to Bruce Ivins should be produced.

    On the science, although such issues require the expertise of someone like a Dr. Popov or Dr. Kiel, my lay understanding is that the folks who dismiss the applicability of the GMU Microdroplet Cell Culture have a mistaken notion no silica-based surfactants are water soluble. The international patent specifically involves an aerosol application and the co-applicant played a key role in the old US offensive program in the 1950s.

    Finally, people like Ed Lake are unaware that the FBI did in fact narrow the window of first mailing — to the evening of 9/17 or the day of 9/18. Dr. Ivins has an alibi.

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