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Context of 'April 2002: Anthrax Spores Leak in Maryland'

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Two leaks of Anthrax spores are detected at an Army biodefense research building at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. (Weiss and Snyder 4/24/2002)

Nicholas Kristof.Nicholas Kristof. [Source: Publicity photo]Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes a series of articles in the New York Times suggesting that Steven Hatfill could be responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). His columns start out vague. In his first column on the subject on May 24, 2002, he speaks of an unnamed “middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. His anthrax vaccinations are up to date, he unquestionably had the ability to make first-rate anthrax, and he was upset at the United States government in the period preceding the anthrax attack.” (Kristof 5/24/2002) Kristof writes in his next column: “Some in the biodefense community think they know a likely culprit, whom I’ll call Mr. Z. Although the bureau has polygraphed Mr. Z, searched his home twice and interviewed him four times, it has not placed him under surveillance or asked its outside handwriting expert to compare his writing to that on the anthrax letters.” (Kristof 7/2/2002) His next column suggests Mr. Z could have been behind a fake anthrax scare in 1997 (see April 24, 1997). (Kristof 7/12/2002) In his final column, he reveals that Mr. Z is in fact Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s prime suspect at the time. Kristof writes: “There is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the attacks. Still, Dr. Hatfill is wrong to suggest that the FBI has casually designated him the anthrax ‘fall guy.’ The authorities’ interest in Dr. Hatfill arises from a range of factors, including his expertise in dry biological warfare agents, his access to Fort Detrick labs where anthrax spores were kept (although he did not work with anthrax there) and the animus to some federal agencies that shows up in his private writings. He has also failed three successive polygraph examinations since January, and canceled plans for another polygraph exam two weeks ago.” (Kristof 8/13/2002) Many of the allegations in Kristof’s articles will turn out to be incorrect. The US government will finally clear Hatfill of any connection to the anthrax attacks in 2008 (see August 8, 2008).

NBC Nightly News reports: “Investigators tell NBC News that the water used to make [the anthrax spores] came from a northeastern US, not a foreign, source. Traces of chemicals found inside the spores revealed the materials used to grow them. And scientists have also mapped the entire DNA chain of the anthrax hoping to narrow down the laboratories where it came from. But one possible clue evaporated. The FBI concluded the spores were not coated with any chemical to make them hang longer in the air.” (MSNBC 10/5/2006) Later in the year, Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright says, “This information [about the water], if correct, would appear to narrow the field” of laboratories that the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) could have come from. Ebright knows of only three labs in the Northeast US that had seed cultures of the Ames strain prior to the attacks:
bullet USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons lab in Frederick, Maryland.
bullet The University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania. A scientist there had been conducting bioweapons research of interest to the US military.
bullet Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle does classified biological research for the US military. (Ember 12/4/2006)


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