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Profile: L. Nicholas Ornston
L. Nicholas Ornston was a participant or observer in the following events:
Magnified anthrax cells. [Source: T. W. Geisbert / USAMRIID]In August 2006, an article by Douglas Beecher is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a well-respected peer-reviewed scientific journal. Beecher is a microbiologist in the FBI’s hazardous materials response unit who has been working on the FBI’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks since the investigation began. His article represents the first official FBI explanation about the anthrax used in the attacks. Releasing the evidence in a peer-reviewed journal will give it more credence if cited in a later court trial. [Chemical and Engineering News, 12/4/2006] At first, the article is little-noticed by the media, but the Washington Post will highlight it in a front-page story a month later. The Post will also say that others in the FBI have come to the same conclusions Beecher has. [Washington Post, 9/25/2006]
Controversial Paragraph - Beecher focuses on the anthrax letter mailed to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), since it had never been opened and thus remained the least contaminated. The anthrax in the Leahy letter and the letter to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) has been considered deadlier than the other anthrax letters because victims were infected by inhalation and not just by touch. Most controversially, Beecher states that a “widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production.” Up until this time, it had been widely reported that these two letters had been “weaponized,” meaning the anthrax in them had been coated with a substance (usually reported as silicia) to make it float in the air and thus deadlier to handle.
No Supporting Evidence - But while Beecher makes this surprising claim, he gives no evidence to back it up. The comment is made in passing in the discussion section of the article and there are no footnotes or explanation related to it. Several months later, L. Nicholas Ornston, editor-in-chief of the microbiology journal, says, “The statement should have had a reference. An unsupported sentence being cited as fact is uncomfortable to me. Any statement in a scientific article should be supported by a reference or by documentation.” Beecher and the rest of the FBI make no further public comments to support his assertion, but the FBI begins describing the anthrax as non-weaponized from this point onwards.
Highly Pure Anthrax, but No Coating or Milling - Several months later, two scientists will claim they saw the anthrax from one of these letters not long after the attacks and did not see any signs of coating or milling. However, what they did see was an exceptionally high purity to the anthrax, in which the high level of debris in the earlier anthrax letters was removed, making it deadlier and possibly more able to float through air. [Chemical and Engineering News, 12/4/2006]
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