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Dead buffalo covered with vultures

compiled by Dee Finney


Bison death toll climbs to 80 in Flying D anthrax outbreak

 By Andy Malby, editor

Nearly 80 bison have succumbed in a rapidly spreading anthrax outbreak on Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch in the Spanish Peaks, and officials are scrambling to contain the disease, a state livestock agent said Monday.

“We’re in the process of cleaning up,” Steve Merritt, a Montana Department of Livestock public information officer, told the Belgrade News. “The number of dead the last time I heard was approximately 80 animals.”

Gallatin County commissioners on Sunday closed Spanish Creek Road to make it easier for livestock officials to implement a quarantine of bison in the affected area, Commissioner Joe Skinner said. About nine miles of the road traverses the Turner ranch and parts of the affected area.

“The closure is in effect until further notice, until we get a handle on” the infection, Skinner said.

In addition to the quarantine of several thousand acres of Turner’s ranch, livestock officials are working to “clean up” the infected site, which entails gathering up the carcasses of fallen bison, burning and burying them, Merritt said.

Stephanie Nelson, Gallatin County’s health officer, said Monday the outbreak does not pose “a serious health risk” to humans, and that the county is working with the Department of Livestock to contain the outbreak and provide education.

“It’s very much a concern for livestock, but does not pose a serious threat to humans,” she said. “The health department is doing support (tasks) for the ranch and the DOL. We have provided educational information to the people on the ranch and are looking at the different exposures and making sure everybody knows this really is a low-risk situation for the general public.”

All animals in the “infected pasture” are under quarantine, Merritt said.

“We do have a quarantine in place,” he said. “The animals that were in the affected pasture have all been quarantined. Physically and geographically (the anthrax) has been contained within a certain area.”

That area, he said, is a single pasture of 13,000 acres, parts of which abut a nine-mile stretch of Spanish Creek Road.

The county closed the road to help “protect the integrity of the quarantine,” he said. “The purpose of the quarantine is to prevent any further livestock exposure.”

Meanwhile, Flying D personnel have worked to keep the bison contained.

“They have fenced a portion of that pasture to keep the animals inside a smaller portion,” Merritt said.

Anthrax is caused by naturally occurring bacteria, according to DOL. It is frequently present where cattle and other animals are found. Spores of the bacteria can lie dormant in the soil for decades then become active under certain climatic or ecologic changes such as heavy rains or flooding preceded by drought.

Animals are exposed to the disease by grazing, drinking water or eating forage contaminated with the spores.

Untreated animals may die within a day or two of exposure, and one or more animals are typically found dead without any recognition of early signs of the disease, which include labored breathing, staggering, unconsciousness and convulsions, according to DOL.

The bacteria is fragile and easily killed with common disinfectants or exposure to moderate temperatures, “and as such, poses virtually no risk to the food chain,” according to the DOL release.

As for livestock, vaccines work as a preventative measure and long-term antibiotics work when the disease has been confirmed or is suspected.

“Anthrax can pop up any place at any time, but this outbreak was in a remote, well-contained area,” Zaluski said Wednesday. “We’re fortunate that the land owner recognized the disease early and took the appropriate action.”

Turner, the media mogul who raises domestic bison on the ranch in the foothills of the Spanish Peaks, said Wednesday he and his ranch managers were working with state livestock officials “and following their protocol guidelines to control the disease.”

Turner stressed that his ranch is not unique in terms of anthrax outbreaks.

“I’m not the first rancher to deal with an anthrax outbreak, and certainly not the last,” he said. “Other outbreaks have been successfully managed throughout the U.S. and Canada, and I am confident we will do the same.”

Anthrax can spread from animals to humans, usually as a result of direct contact with infected animals or animal products such as wool, hides and horns.

However, Montana has not had a reported case of human anthrax since 1961 and Nelson said the present outbreak does not threaten the general public.

Big Sky News Service contributed to this report.



Anthrax on Turner ranch prompts road closure

published on

A nine-mile stretch of Spanish Creek Road has been closed at the request of the Montana Department of Livestock after an outbreak of naturally-occurring anthrax that has killed approximately 80 domestic bison on Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch.

Now, with the sick bison quarantined, there is minimal risk to animals or people outside the closed-off area, DOL’s Steve Merritt said Monday.

“We feel that it’s really well confined,” Merritt said, and the soil on Turner’s ranch is being disinfected to kill the bacteria.

However, he predicted that more of Turner’s bison will likely fall ill.

“I’m sure that there will be more animals that succumb to the disease,” Merritt said.n conjunction with the road closure, the Spanish Creek Trail will remain off limits, Marna Daley, Gallatin National Forest spokeswoman, said Monday.

“It looks like it will be a minimum of one week, but maybe more,” she said.

Anthrax may be spread from animals to humans, but a person must come in close contact with an infected carcass to get sick, Merritt said.

“The easiest way to get infected,” he said, “is through a cut in the skin.”

Anthrax bacteria grows in soil and grass after periods of wet and cool weather, according to the DOL. Signs of anthrax usually appear three to seven days after spores are inhaled or swallowed and include labored breathing, trembling and staggering. Once symptoms begin, animals usually die within two days.

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are effective to combat anthrax if administered early enough. And a vaccination is available to prevent future livestock deaths.

While this is the first reported anthrax outbreak in Gallatin County, it’s important that people remember anthrax is a naturally occurring organism, he said.

“Every once in awhile it pops up,” Merritt said.

Montana has seen two other anthrax outbreaks since 2005, one in Roosevelt County one another in Sheridan County, he said. They were contained and did minimal damage.

Jessica Mayrer can be reached at

Anthrax kills 25 bison on Ted Turner's Montana ranch

Published on: 08/01/08

Helena, Mont. — Twenty-five domestic bison on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in Gallatin County have been killed by naturally occurring anthrax, the state Department of Livestock said.

"The outbreak has been contained to a single, fully enclosed pasture, and we are aggressively addressing the situation with full cooperation of the landowner," state veterinarian Marty Zaluski said.

He said the affected area has been quarantined and disposal of the affected animals is under way.

Anthrax is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, which can lie dormant in the soil for decades. It can become active when heavy rains follow drought.

Animals are exposed to the disease by grazing or consuming forage or water contaminated with the spores.

Symptoms of the disease include labored breathing, fever, staggering, depression, unconsciousness and convulsions. Untreated animals may die within 24 to 48 hours of exposure.

"I'm not the first rancher to deal with an anthrax outbreak, and certainly not the last," Turner said. "Other outbreaks have been successfully managed throughout the U.S. and Canada, and I am confident we will do the same."

Anthrax can be spread from animals to people, but the state has not had a reported case of human anthrax since 1961.

IS USA Framing Dead Scientist For Anthrax Attacks?

It is more and more obvious that the USA government is responsible for framing anthrax to its citizens. Now, experts speak about it.

The FBI’s prime suspect in the October 2001 anthrax letters case died last week in an apparent suicide. Bruce Ivins was an elite government scientist at the biodefense research lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland. He was among the nation’s top experts on the military use of anthrax. But many of his colleagues have expressed deep skepticism over the FBI’s claims. We speak to anthrax expert Dr. Meryl Nass and blogger Glenn Greenwald. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: The FBI’s prime suspect in the October 2001 anthrax letters case died last week in an apparent suicide. Bruce Ivins was an elite government scientist at the biodefense research lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He was among the nation’s top experts on the military use of anthrax.

Scientist Ivins reportedly died soon after learning the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened seventeen others, crippling the national mail service. He had been part of a team that helped the government investigate the attacks and won the Pentagon’s highest civilian award in 2003. 

Many of his colleagues are convinced Ivins was innocent and claim he lacked the motive and the means to develop the fine powder used in the letter scare. They’re also skeptical of the FBI’s investigation, one of the largest in US history, given its false starts over the past seven years. The investigation initially focused on Steven Hatfill, the onetime colleague of Bruce Ivins. But this June, the Justice Department settled with Hatfill for $5.82 million.

Whether Ivins was guilty or not, the case also raises key questions about how the anthrax scare was initially linked to Islamic terrorists and Iraq. In a piece for, attorney and author Glenn Greenwald writes repeated claims by the mainstream media linking the attacks to Saddam Hussein helped shape American perceptions about Iraq in the lead-up to the invasion.

Glenn Greenwald joins us now by telephone from Brazil. We’re also joined on the phone by Dr. Meryl Nass. She’s in Maine. She’s an expert on anthrax and knew Bruce Ivins. On her blog,, she writes she believes Ivins was probably innocent.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Glenn Greenwald, let’s begin with you. When you heard about Bruce Ivins being the key suspect, about to be indicted, apparently—we all learned this after his suicide—can you talk about your reaction?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s hard to have any reaction to anything that the government and the FBI say about the anthrax investigation other than extreme skepticism. In light of the fact that everything that they’ve done and said over the past seven years, by all accounts, has been either completely inept or, worse, deliberately misguided away from the true source of the anthrax. And so, all of these news accounts over the past several days that have suggested that Bruce Ivins is the person behind the anthrax attacks are lacking one critical ingredient, and that’s any evidence whatsoever that those claims are true.

And the one thing that I would underscore is, as you said in your introductory remarks, the L.A. Times, when they reported this story originally, said that Ivins was about to be indicted, trying to suggest that it was literally imminent, like a day or two away. And yet, a New York Times story this morning spoke with various investigators at the FBI who have now backtracked significantly on that claim, and they’re saying that all of the evidence that they have against Ivins is, quote, “entirely circumstantial” and that the grand jury intended to hear evidence for at least several more weeks before deciding whether or not to indict him. So there’s all sorts of really mystifying questions that have plagued this case from the start, and there’s even more now, in light of this recent event, and what we need is a real public hearing of all these facts.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Senator McCain and his comments soon after September 11th. He was on the David Letterman show. It was October 18, 2001. And he brought up Iraq as a possible, quote, “second phase” of the war in Afghanistan. He said the anthrax may have come from Iraq.

DAVID LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think we’re doing fine. I think we’ve removed what little anti-aircraft capability they have. These C-130 gunships are pretty awesome weapons of war, and I believe that the Taliban will be removed. I think we’ll do fine. The second phase—if I could just make one very quickly—the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize “may”—have come in from—come from Iraq.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Oh, is that right?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: If that may be the case, then that’s when some tough decisions are going to have to be made.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush would echo what John McCain had to say, linking Iraq to anthrax in his 2002 State of the Union address just a few months later. This is an excerpt.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush in 2002. And now, the New York Daily News is reporting in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by al-Qaeda. So, Glenn Greenwald, take us from the point of the attacks to the direction the investigation took, from the government and this information to Steven Hatfill.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, clearly, the focus in the initial phases was on trying to link the anthrax attacks to Islamic terrorism and as a second stage of the 9/11 attacks. And in fact, the anthrax attacker or attackers clearly had the same goal in mind. I mean, the letters that accompanied the anthrax, a lot of people have forgotten, were dated 9/11/01, and they said things like, “We have anthrax. Prepare to die. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” And so, there was a clear attempt on the part of the attackers themselves to link the attack to Islamic radicalism.

And then all sorts of sources inside of the government were claiming that there was evidence found at the Fort Detrick lab, where the government now says the attacks came from, that also linked the attacks to Iraq. There was one particularly influential story from ABC News and Brian Ross, where for days and days, on Peter Jennings and other shows, they claimed that they were told by many sources inside the government that tests had found the presence of something called bentonite, which is the hallmark, they said, of the Iraqi biological weapons program. It turned out that claim was totally false. There never was any bentonite found in the anthrax, everybody now agrees, and yet, as you showed from the clip from John McCain—there was clips from Joe Lieberman several days later on Meet the Press—there was a concerted effort to try and link the anthrax in the public mind to Saddam Hussein and to Iraq, specifically, and Islamic radicalism, more generally.  

The FBI ultimately, through their tests, decided that all of the evidence was actually pointing to US government facilities and US government and US Army research labs, of the type where Bruce Ivins and Steven Hatfill worked at Fort Detrick. And so, they were aware from the start that it was almost certainly a domestic source, and yet all kinds of factions, within the government and out, tried continuously to depict it as something that was likely coming from Iraq, and they continued to do that for several years, even when it was clearly established that it was almost certainly a domestic source.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break. When we come back, we’ll also be joined by Dr. Meryl Nass, who is an anthrax expert, physician and writer, blogs at and knew Bruce Ivins, the man who committed suicide last week. This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. Back in a minute. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our discussion in this aftermath of the apparent suicide of Bruce Ivins, the man who now the government says was moving in on perhaps to indict holding him responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001. He committed suicide right after being informed that he was the prime suspect in the investigation. Our guests are Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and blogger for, his latest book is Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics; and Dr. Meryl Nass joins us now from Maine, who blogs at

Did you know Bruce Ivins, Dr. Nass? Dr. Nass?

DR. MERYL NASS: Yes. [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Bruce Ivins?

DR. MERYL NASS: Yes, I knew him.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about who he was.

DR. MERYL NASS: He was a very pleasant, sort of Midwestern scientist, salt of the earth kind of guy, maybe a little bit nervous. He did good work. I was able to rely on the quality of his work in all the many papers that he published on anthrax vaccine. And he was a generous scientist, in that he was always willing to discuss work that I was doing and provide me with papers or information about that work.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised when you heard the government was targeting him?

DR. MERYL NASS: Yes, I was completely shocked. And of course, I found that out after he had committed suicide. He would be the last person I would have suspected, not that I’m any expert, but I have been told that there is no forensic personality for a crime like this that’s been defined. So, I guess it’s possible that he did it, but I absolutely cannot come up with a motive, with access and with the complicated things that would need to be done if he were a loner performing such an act.

And I am struck by the fact that there were at least two earlier people who, in my view, appeared to have been set up as possible patsies for the letter attacks, and Hatfill being one and Ayaad Assaad being another. The week the letters were sent, a letter was sent to Quantico implicating Assaad. And the Quantico letter actually arrived before the anthrax letters, but it seemed that there was a definite intent to link Assaad. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Assaad was.

DR. MERYL NASS: Assaad was an Egyptian scientist who previously had worked at Fort Detrick. He was not an anthrax scientist; neither was Hatfill. And he had had a difficult time at Fort Detrick. There were a number of other scientists who used to make fun of him. Laura Rozen outlined all this in an article in back about five or six years ago. As a result, he left. He filed a—I think an age discrimination suit against Fort Detrick. And he was called in for questioning after this letter appeared. So it looked like somebody was trying to finger Assaad.

And then, later, there were a lot of odd coincidences with respect to Steven Hatfill and his travels and his past history and living in Rhodesia that had correspondence with features of the anthrax attacks. So he had lived in Harari, which had a suburb named Greendale, and there were these letters post-marked Greendale—not post-marked, but Greendale was the return address. So there were—it seemed that somebody who knew a bit about Hatfill’s life also had attempted to implicate him in the letters.

So now we have Ivins. And the Defense Department—sorry, not the Defense, Justice Department has failed to provide to the public any shred of evidence that really would link Ivins in any kind of definitive way to this crime. This morning, we’re being told that there is forensic scientific evidence to show that the strain in the letters was a strain that came from his lab. But, you know, the old saw in bioterrorism is that of course you select your agent from—so that it will make somebody else look guilty. So, somebody else could have gotten a strain from his lab in order to cast aspersions on Ivins. The fact that it was found in his lab really means nothing. I mean, a smart scientist who is going to create an attack like this is clearly not going to choose anthrax that’s going to lead right back to his own lab. So I think that no matter how fancy the forensics gets, you’re not going to get an answer there. And if that is the basis for the charges against Ivins, it is, in my mind, very weak.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to an interview that I did in July of 2003 with Patrick Clawson, the friend and former spokesperson for Steven Hatfill. I asked Clawson about the FBI investigation that named Hatfill as a, quote, "person of interest” in the anthrax case.

PATRICK CLAWSON: The problem that Steve Hatfill has is that his life is a living nightmare right now. Every place he goes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he is followed by squads of FBI agents. Just last week, Steve and I went out to have some drinks and dinner, and as soon as I left his house, bam!, I had seven FBI cars following me all over northwest Washington, D.C. Sometimes these agents swear at him, they flip him the finger. There’s nothing surreptitious about this. This is not a surveillance. This is an open, in-your-face harassment campaign. Steve Hatfill is a poster boy for abuses of the PATRIOT Act.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Patrick Clawson, friend of Steven Hatfill, who just a few weeks ago won more than $5.8 million from the US government. Glenn Greenwald, can you talk about that campaign against Steven Hatfill—there was very little attention about the fact he just won $6 million—and then the fingering of Bruce Ivins?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it’s really extraordinary. I mean, they basically destroyed his life and destroyed his reputation. And what was so amazing about that was that, for years, what they did was, investigators inside the Justice Department and the FBI continuously and systematically leaked to a whole slew of reporters all kinds of accusatory innuendo about Hatfill, information about his medical records, about things that they had found in his garbage cans about parts of his personal life that they had obtained as a result of a very widespread surveillance. And they absolutely tailed him in a way that was designed to make him in public appear as though he was clearly the guilty party.

And then, when it came—when he sued essentially everybody—the government and all of the journalists who had published all of this information—the journalists acted to protect the government in every way. I mean, they refused to disclose who it was who had fed them this information. And the court ultimately ended up ordering the journalists to disclose their sources, so that Hatfill was on the verge of finding out who inside the Justice Department and the FBI had been disclosing all this information designed to make him look like the anthrax attacker, when as the government, ultimately, through its actions, ended up conceding, by paying him millions of dollars and then by ultimately now charging or accusing Ivins of being the attacker. All of this information was untrue all along. And so, the investigation was directed almost exclusively at someone who the government now says had nothing to do with the attacks, and they used the media along the way to publicly convict him and destroy his life. And the media not only cooperated enthusiastically, but continues to protect the people inside the government who did that.

And, of course, you see the same thing with the media doing that with regard to who inside the government tried to lie to the public by connecting the attacks to Iraq. And now, Ivins is essentially being convicted in public, as well, through selective leaks from the government to the media that then prints it more or less uncritically. So the whole investigation has been a sham from the start. And even if you want to be as generous as possible in your interpretation, you would say that it’s been filled from start to finish with pure ineptitude. And that’s why I think a full-scale congressional investigation or the kind of commission that was charged with investigating the 9/11 attack, with real subpoena power, is absolutely vital here to having the public believe that they’ve gotten even the basic facts about what occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the court documents and tapes that reveal his therapist Jean Duley’s concerns to the FBI after receiving death threats from Ivins?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I find that whole part of the story bizarre in so many ways. I mean, first of all, if you look at Bruce Ivins’ history, he doesn’t actually have a shred of a criminal record. By contrast, Jean Duley, who is not actually a psychiatrist or a psychologist, she’s actually a social worker who just recently graduated from school and is the kind of social worker who does things like, you know, lead group therapy sessions and the like. She’s hardly a credible or authoritative expert on someone’s psychological state, as she’s been depicted, but she actually has a long history of being involved in various court proceedings. She was convicted in 2007 and then again—in 2006, then again in 2007, of driving under the influence of alcohol. She’s been on probation. She’s still on probation, actually. She’s had significant financial difficulties.

And all of a sudden, out of the blue, while working with the FBI, she starts making some very extreme accusations about Bruce Ivins’ history, about his psychological condition, that none of his co-workers or friends or people who know him confirm in any way, shape or form—in fact, they vehemently contradict it. And so, so much of the media’s depiction of Ivins as this kind of unstable, violent, threatening psychotic is based on the claims of someone who, for a lot of different reasons, really isn’t particularly credible. I mean, it may turn out that Ivins is guilty, it may turn out that what she said is true, but before anyone even forms an opinion about those issues, we ought to wait and see what the evidence really is. And so far, what the media has given us is extremely unconvincing.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Meryl Nass, there has been reports that the investigation will basically be finished by the end of the week, will wrap up, and there will be more information implicating Dr. Ivins.

DR. MERYL NASS: You know, what I’m afraid of, Amy, is that we will hear a lot of fluff and that the investigation will in fact wrap up, and all the important information will be classified. We’ve already gotten a tremendous amount of misinformation from an unidentified government spokesperson, and that is not just this weekend, but going back to the initial release of the letters. There has been a tremendous amount of innuendo and information put forward that has never been backed up and never been attributed to anybody.

And I fear that because a variety of the information that may be used to convict Bruce Ivins after his death is going to be classified, or perhaps we will be given false information, that it will become impossible to defend him and impossible to really make sense of the entire letters case. And I’m very concerned about the whole concept of having significant amount of information in a criminal case that is classified or that only the Justice Department has access to and whether that precludes justice for people who are ensnared in those cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, Dr. Meryl Nass, anthrax expert, physician, writer, writes at, and Glenn Greenwald, speaking to us from Brazil, constitutional law attorney, blogger for

America Sent Anthrax to Its Citizens in 2001!

VIDEO: Scientist In Anthrax Case Said To Kill Self


Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit

August 5, 2008; Page A17


Over the past week the media was gripped by the news that the FBI was about to charge Bruce Ivins, a leading anthrax expert, as the man responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in September/October 2001.

But despite the seemingly powerful narrative that Ivins committed suicide because investigators were closing in, this is still far from a shut case. The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he (or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone.

I believe this is another mistake in the investigation.

Let's start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.

Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled.

What's more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a "product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before." Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That's what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time.

Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air, and increased their retention in the lungs.

In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the Department of Homeland Security as "according to the Russian recipes" -- apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge.

The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax's DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might have made the product.

Furthermore, the anthrax in this case, the "Ames strain," is one of the most common strains in the world. Early in the investigations, the FBI said it was similar to strains found in Haiti and Sri Lanka. The strain at the institute was isolated originally from an animal in west Texas and can be found from Texas to Montana following the old cattle trails. Samples of the strain were also supplied to at least eight laboratories including three foreign laboratories. Four French government laboratories reported on studies with the Ames strain, citing the Pasteur Institute in Paris as the source of the strain they used. Organism DNA is not a very reliable way to make a case against a scientist.

The FBI has not officially released information on why it focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product.

From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not that man. The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.

The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying "to reverse engineer" (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs. Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why should federal investigators or the news media or the American public believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?

Mr. Spertzel, head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99, was a member of the Iraq Survey Group.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

And add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.

Why Anthrax Matters


After listening to the podcast of yesterday's show I was disappointed with Cenk's treatment of the Ivins story. Okay disappointed is too strong a word, but I think he left out some critical discussion of the significance of the original attacks.


Every one should read Glenn Greenwald's recent piece on the Anthrax scare and its larger significance to the post-9-11 period. He talks about how ABC's reporting on the Anthrax mailers at the time was "perhaps the biggest media scandal in American History". ABC world news tonight reported via Peter Jennings at the time that the government had discovered links between the Anthrax mailings and Saddam Hussein's government by chemical signature (is it all coming back to you now?). Reports that the white house denied. Sure. These assertions were backed by "4 independent and well-placed sources". When they were later proven false, ABC never retracted the story, and noone at ABC has investigated their sources. There's a lot more.

The bottom line is that there are 2 things you should take away from the Anthrax scare in retrospect.

1) The white house used the anthrax scare to connect Saddam Hussein to terrorism and 9-11, by manipulation of the media and right wing noise machines (tell me where one begins and the other ends and I give you a prize!). This is not in any doubt.

2) The only things that remain unclear in the wake of Bruce E. Ivins' death are who mailed the anthrax and for what reason. And the lack of an autopsy just raises more questions.

I hate conspiracy theories, but Glenn Greenwald is no fringe nutcase. I think there's smoke here, and I hope somebody does their job and gets to the bottom of this.



Glenn Greenwald

Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News

The FBI's lead suspect in the September, 2001 anthrax attacks -- Bruce E. Ivins -- died Tuesday night, apparently by suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to charge him with responsibility for the attacks. For the last 18 years, Ivins was a top anthrax researcher at the U.S. Government's biological weapons research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, where he was one of the most elite government anthrax scientists on the research team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID).

The 2001 anthrax attacks remain one of the great mysteries of the post-9/11 era. After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters -- with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 -- that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax -- sent directly into the heart of the country's elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets -- that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.

If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks. This was the letter sent to Brokaw:

The letter sent to Leahy contained this message:

We have anthrax.

You die now.

Are you afraid?

Death to America.

Death to Israel.

Allah is great.

By design, those attacks put the American population into a state of intense fear of Islamic terrorism, far more than the 9/11 attacks alone could have accomplished.

Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent -- indispensably aided by ABC News -- to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In my view, and I've written about this several times and in great detail to no avail, the role played by ABC News in this episode is the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this decade. News of Ivins' suicide, which means (presumably) that the anthrax attacks originated from Ft. Detrick, adds critical new facts and heightens how scandalous ABC News' conduct continues to be in this matter.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.
Two days earlier, Ross went on ABC News' World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and, as the lead story, breathlessly reported:
The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere.
Clearly, Ross' allegedly four separate sources had to have some specific knowledge of the tests conducted and, if they were really "well-placed," one would presume that meant they had some connection to the laboratory where the tests were conducted -- Ft. Detrick. That means that the same Government lab where the anthrax attacks themselves came from was the same place where the false reports originated that blamed those attacks on Iraq.

It's extremely possible -- one could say highly likely -- that the same people responsible for perpetrating the attacks were the ones who fed the false reports to the public, through ABC News, that Saddam was behind them. What we know for certain -- as a result of the letters accompanying the anthrax -- is that whoever perpetrated the attacks wanted the public to believe they were sent by foreign Muslims. Feeding claims to ABC News designed to link Saddam to those attacks would, for obvious reasons, promote the goal of the anthrax attacker(s).

Seven years later, it's difficult for many people to recall, but, as I've amply documented, those ABC News reports linking Saddam and anthrax penetrated very deeply -- by design -- into our public discourse and into the public consciousness. Those reports were absolutely vital in creating the impression during that very volatile time that Islamic terrorists generally, and Iraq and Saddam Hussein specifically, were grave, existential threats to this country. As but one example: after Ross' lead report on the October 26, 2001 edition of World News Tonight with Peter Jennings claiming that the Government had found bentonite, this is what Jennings said into the camera:

This news about bentonite as the additive being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun.
That's exactly what happened. The Weekly Standard published two lengthy articles attacking the FBI for focusing on a domestic culprit and -- relying almost exclusively on the ABC/Ross report -- insisted that Saddam was one of the most likely sources for those attacks. In November, 2001, they published an article (via Lexis) which began:
On the critical issue of who sent the anthrax, it's time to give credit to the ABC website,, for reporting rings around most other news organizations. Here's a bit from a comprehensive story filed late last week by Gary Matsumoto, lending further credence to the commonsensical theory (resisted by the White House) that al Qaeda or Iraq -- and not some domestic Ted Kaczynski type -- is behind the germ warfare.
The Weekly Standard published a much lengthier and more dogmatic article in April, 2002 again pushing the ABC "bentonite" claims and arguing: "There is purely circumstantial though highly suggestive evidence that might seem to link Iraq with last fall's anthrax terrorism." The American Enterprise Institute's Laurie Mylroie (who had an AEI article linking Saddam to 9/11 ready for publication at the AEI on September 13) expressly claimed in November, 2001 that "there is also tremendous evidence that subsequent anthrax attacks are connected to Iraq" and based that accusation almost exclusively on the report from ABC and Ross ("Mylroie: Evidence Shows Saddam Is Behind Anthrax Attacks").

And then, when President Bush named Iraq as a member of the "Axis of Evil" in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech -- just two months after ABC's report, when the anthrax attacks were still very vividly on the minds of Americans -- he specifically touted this claim:

The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.
Bush's invocation of Iraq was the only reference in the State of the Union address to the unsolved anthrax attacks. And the Iraq-anthrax connection was explicitly made by the President at a time when, as we now know, he was already eagerly planning an attack on Iraq.

There can't be any question that this extremely flamboyant though totally false linkage between Iraq and the anthrax attacks -- accomplished primarily by the false bentonite reports from ABC News and Brian Ross -- played a very significant role in how Americans perceived of the Islamic threat generally and Iraq specifically. As but one very illustrative example, The Washington Post's columnist, Richard Cohen, supported the invasion of Iraq, came to regret that support, and then explained what led him to do so, in a 2004 Post column entitled "Our Forgotten Panic":

I'm not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack -- more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.
Cohen -- in a March 18, 2008 Slate article in which he explains why he wrongfully supported the attack on Iraq -- disclosed this:
Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore -- at least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. . . . There was ample reason to be afraid.

The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.

For this and other reasons, the anthrax letters appeared linked to the awful events of Sept. 11. It all seemed one and the same. Already, my impulse had been to strike back, an overwhelming urge that had, in fact, taken me by surprise on Sept. 11 itself when the first of the Twin Towers had collapsed. . . .

In the following days, as the horror started to be airbrushed -- no more bodies plummeting to the sidewalk -- the anthrax letters started to come, some to people I knew. And I thought, No, I'm not going to sit here passively and wait for it to happen. I wanted to go to "them," whoever "they" were, grab them by the neck, and get them before they could get us. One of "them" was Saddam Hussein. He had messed around with anthrax . . . He was a nasty little fascist, and he needed to be dealt with.

That, more or less, is how I made my decision to support the war in Iraq.

Cohen's mental process that led him to link anthrax to Iraq and then to support an attack on Iraq, warped as it is, was extremely common. Having heard ABC News in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack flamboyantly and repeatedly link Saddam to the anthrax attacks, followed by George Bush's making the same linkage (albeit more subtly) in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech, much of the public had implanted into their minds that Saddam Hussein was not just evil, but a severe threat to the U.S., likely the primary culprit behind the anthrax attacks. All along, though, the anthrax came from a U.S. Government/Army research lab.

Critically, ABC News never retracted its story (they merely noted, as they had done from the start, that the White House denied the reports). And thus, the linkage between Saddam and the anthrax attacks -- every bit as false as the linkage between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks -- persisted.

We now know -- we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last night, and know especially in light of it -- that the anthrax attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government -- from people with some type of significant links to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant role -- I'd argue a very major role -- in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further, propagandized the public to believe that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration wanted to pursue -- including an attack an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework -- were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and -- as importantly -- to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They're allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

They're not protecting "sources." The people who fed them the bentonite story aren't "sources." They're fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public, rather than a news organization uncovering such frauds. That is why this is one of the most extreme journalistic scandals that exists, and it deserves a lot more debate and attention than it has received thus far.

UPDATE: One other fact to note here is how bizarrely inept the effort by the Bush DOJ to find the real attacker has been. Extremely suspicious behavior from Ivins -- including his having found and completely cleaned anthrax traces on a co-worker's desk at the Ft. Detrick lab without telling anyone that he did so and then offering extremely strange explanations for why -- was publicly reported as early as 2004 by The LA Times (Ivins "detected an apparent anthrax leak in December 2001, at the height of the anthrax mailings investigation, but did not report it. Ivins considered the problem solved when he cleaned the affected office with bleach").

In October 2004, USA Today reported that Ivins was involved in another similar incident, in April of 2002, when Ivins performed unauthorized tests to detect the origins of more anthrax residue found at Ft. Detrick. Yet rather than having that repeated, strange behavior lead the FBI to discover that he was involved in the attacks, there was a very public effort -- as Atrios notes here -- to blame the attacks on Iraq and then, ultimately, to blame Steven Hatfill. Amazingly, as Atrios notes here, very few people other than "a few crazy bloggers are even interested" in finding out what happened here and why -- at least to demand that ABC News report the vital information that it already has that will shed very significant light on much of this.

UPDATE II: Ivins' local paper, Frederick News in Maryland, has printed several Letters to the Editor written by Ivins over the years. Though the underlying ideology is a bit difficult to discern, he seems clearly driven by a belief in the need for Christian doctrine to govern our laws and political institutions, with a particular interest in Catholic dogma. He wrote things like this:

Today we frequently admonish people who oppose abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide or capital punishment to keep their religious, moral, and philosophical beliefs to themselves.

Before dispensing such admonishments in the future, perhaps we should gratefully consider some of our country's most courageous, historical figures who refused to do so.

And then there's this rather cryptic message, published in 2006:
Rabbi Morris Kosman is entirely correct in summarily rejecting the demands of the Frederick Imam for a "dialogue."


By blood and faith, Jews are God's chosen, and have no need for "dialogue" with any gentile. End of "dialogue."

It should be noted that the lawyer who had been representing Ivins in connection with the anthrax investigation categorically maintains Ivins' innocence and attributes his suicide to "the relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo."

On a note related to the main topic of the post, macgupta in comments notes the numerous prominent people in addition to those mentioned here -- including The Wall St. Jorunal Editors and former CIA Director James Woolsey -- who insisted rather emphatically from the beginning of the anthrax attacks that Saddam was likely to blame. Indeed, the WSJ Editorial Page -- along with others on the Right such as Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Fox News -- continued even into 2007 to insist that the FBI was erring by focusing on domestic suspects rather than Middle Easterners.

The Nation's Michael Massing noted at the time (in November, 2001) that as a direct result of the anthrax attacks, and the numerous claims insinuating that Iraq was behind them, "the political and journalistic establishment suddenly seems united in wanting to attack Iraq." There has long been an intense desire on the neoconservative Right to falsely link anthrax to Saddam specifically and Muslims generally. ABC News was, and (as a result of its inexcusable silence) continues to be, their best friend.

UPDATE III: See this important point from Atrios about Richard Cohen's admission that he was told before the anthrax attacks happened by a "high government official" to take cipro. Atrios writes: "now that we know that the US gov't believes that anthrax came from the inside, shouldn't Cohen be a wee bit curious about what this warning was based on?"

That applies to much of the Beltway class, including many well-connected journalists, who were quietly popping cipro back then because, like Cohen, they heard from Government sources that they should. Leave aside the ethical questions about the fact that these journalists kept those warnings to themselves. Wouldn't the most basic journalistic instincts lead them now -- in light of the claims by our Government that the attacks came from a Government scientist -- to wonder why and how their Government sources were warning about an anthrax attack? Then again, the most basic journalistic instincts would have led ABC News to reveal who concocted and fed them the false "Saddam/anthrax" reports in the first place, and yet we still are forced to guess at those questions because ABC News continues to cover up the identity of the perpetrators.

UPDATE IV: John McCain, on the David Letterman Show, October 18, 2001 (days before ABC News first broadcast their bentonite report):

LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN: I think we're doing fine . . . I think we'll do fine. The second phase -- if I could just make one, very quickly -- the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don't have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that's when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.

ThinkProgress has the video. Someone ought to ask McCain what "indication" he was referencing that the anthrax "may have come from Iraq."

After all, three days later, McCain and Joe Lieberman went on Meet the Press (on October 21, 2001) and both strongly suggested that we would have to attack Iraq. Lieberman said that the anthrax was so complex and potent that "there's either a significant amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program."

As I said, it is not possible to overstate the importance of anthrax in putting the country into the state of fear that led to the attack on Iraq and so many of the other abuses of the Bush era. There are few news stories more significant, if there are any, than unveiling who the culprits were behind this deliberate propaganda. The fact that the current GOP presidential nominee claimed back then on national television to have some "indication" linking Saddam to the anthrax attacks makes it a bigger story still.

UPDATE V: I tried to be careful here to avoid accepting as True the matter of Ivins' guilt. Very early on in the article, I framed the analysis this way: "If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab," and I then noted in Update II that Ivins' lawyer vehemently maintains his innocence. My whole point here is that the U.S. Government now claims the anthrax attacks came from a Government scientist at a U.S. Army lab, and my conclusions follow from that premise, accepted as true only for purposes of this analysis.

It's worth underscoring that it is far from clear that Ivins had anything to do with the anthrax attacks, and someone in comments claiming (anonymously though credibly) that he knew Ivins personally asserts that Ivins was innocent and makes the case as to why the Government's accusations are suspect. As I see it, the more doubt there is about who was responsible for the anthrax attacks, the greater is the need for ABC News to reveal who fabricated their reports linking the attacks to Iraq.

UPDATE VI: I'll be on Rachel Maddow's radio show tonight at 8:30 p.m. EST to discuss this story. Local listings and live audio feed are here.

Numerous people have advised me in comments and via email that ABC News is deleting any mention of my piece today in the comment section to their article on the Ivins suicide (though many such comments now seem to be posted there). Last year, ABC was in full denial mode when responding to the stories I wrote about this issue. The key here, I think, will be to try to devise the right strategy to induce the right Congressional Committee to hold hearings on the false ABC News stories and the anthrax issue generally. I hope to have more details on that effort shortly.

UPDATE VII: Two prominent journalism professors -- Jay Rosen of NYU and Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and a practicing journalist for 25 years -- have added their names to the list of people calling on ABC News and Brian Ross to reveal their sources for ABC's false bentonite story that was used to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq. Rosen and Gillmor both write that ABC and Ross should answer three questions which they jointly outline, and they both set forth the reasons, grounded in widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics, as to why ABC and Ross should do so.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Posted by Kim E. Pearson 4:34:24 PM

Should ABC News Reveal Anonymous Sources in Anthrax Probe? Bloggers Say Yes

News organizations are accustomed to fending off demands from judges and law enforcement agencies that they reveal their confidential sources. But what happens when this demand comes from news-savvy bloggers? Currently, ABC News is facing this quandary. This blog "meme" was sparked by two noted journalism professors: Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor, in response to Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald's criticisms (Aug 1 and Aug 3) of ABC News' coverage of the 2001 anthrax scare.

In fall 2001, five people died and 17 were injured when someone sent a series of anthrax-laced letters to several members of Congress and prominent journalists. Last week, a leading suspect in the case (Army biodefense expert Bruce Ivins, 62) apparently committed suicide. According to news reports, Ivins' lawyer said Justice Department officials had informed them of their intention to indict Ivins for the anthrax murders.

Greenwald noted that at the time, ABC ran a series of stories citing "well-placed" anonymous sources implicating Iraq in the attack. According to Greenwald, these stories contributed to the misinformation that fueled public support for the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Greenwald argued that apparently ABC's "well-placed" sources lied, thus forfeiting their right to anonymity.

What's remarkable is that Rosen and Gilmor turned Ivins' argument into a blog meme by asking other bloggers to pose these three "vital questions" to ABC:

  1. Was ABC lied to or misled by its sources when it reported several times in 2001 that anthrax found in domestic attacks came from Iraq or showed signs of Iraqi involvement? (Sources who are granted confidentiality give up their rights when they lie or mislead the reporter.)
  2. Who were the "four well-placed and separate sources" who falsely told ABC News that tests conducted at Fort Detrick showed bentonite in the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, causing ABC News to connect the attacks to Iraq in multiple reports over a five day period in October, 2001? (It now appears that the attacks were of domestic origin and the anthrax came from within U.S. government facilities.)
  3. What is ABC News doing to re-report these events, to figure out what went wrong and to correct the record for the American people who were misled? (ABC's substantially false story helped make the case for the Iraq war by raising fears about enemies abroad attacking the U.S. How that happened, and who was responsible is itself a major story of public interest.)

Most blog memes are quizzes, games, or questions that people pass around from site to site for the sake of novelty or entertainment. The creation of a blog meme in an effort to hold a news organization accountable for its reporting is an intriguing strategy that seems to have caught on with bloggers.

This isn't limited to blogs. Commenters to current ABC News coverage of the anthrax case are also raising these questions, right on the ABC News site.

So far, I haven't seen a response from ABC news. [Editor's note: Poynter has directly contacted ABC News management for comment. We'll update if and when they respond.] Officially, the anthrax investigation hasn't ended, and there is plenty of "well-placed" skepticism about the case against Ivins set forth by mainstream news organizations. At least one bioweapons expert organization is calling on the DOJ to continue its investigation even if the case against Ivins is deemed conclusive -- to ascertain whether Ivins acted alone.

Emerging info from current reporting indicates that ABC's original reports were probably unsupported. Will ABC News explain what happened, revisit these key stories, and discuss the role of its reporting in the Iraq war fever of 2001?



Officials: Sorority obsession seen in anthrax case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks was obsessed with a sorority that sat less than 100 yards away from a New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent, authorities said Monday.

Multiple U.S. officials told The Associated Press that former Army scientist Bruce Ivins was long obsessed with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, going back as far as his own college days at the University of Cincinnati.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The bizarre link to the sorority may indirectly explain one of the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from Princeton, N.J., 195 miles from the Army biological weapons lab the anthrax is believed to have been smuggled out of.

An adviser to the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Princeton University confirmed she was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the case.

U.S. officials said e-mails or other documents detail Ivins' long-standing fixation on the sorority. His former therapist has said Ivins plotted revenge against those who have slighted him, particularly women. There is nothing to indicate, however, he was focused on any one sorority member or other Princeton student, the officials said.

Despite the connection between Ivins and the sorority, authorities acknowledge they cannot place the scientist in Princeton the day the anthrax was mailed. That remains a hole in the government's case. Had Ivins not killed himself last week, authorities would have argued he could have made the seven-hour round trip to Princeton after work.

Ivins' attorney, Paul F. Kemp, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday but has asserted his client's innocence and said he would have been vindicated in court.

Katherine Breckinridge Graham, a Kappa alumna who serves as an adviser to the sorority's Princeton chapter, said Monday she was interviewed by FBI agents "over the last couple of years" about the case. She said she could not provide any details about the interview because she signed an FBI nondisclosure form.

However, Graham said there was nothing to indicate that any of the sorority members had anything to do with Ivins.

"Nothing odd went on," said Graham, an attorney.

Kappa Kappa Gamma executive director Lauren Paitson, reached at the sorority's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, initially told an AP reporter Monday afternoon she would provide a comment shortly. She did not answer subsequent phone messages or e-mails seeking a response.

Some of the scientist's friends and former co-workers have reacted with skepticism as details about the investigation surfaced. They questioned whether Ivins had the motive to unleash such an attack and whether he could have secretly created the powder form of the deadly toxin without co-workers noticing.

Princeton University referred questions about Ivins to the FBI. The university does not formally recognize sororities and fraternities but chapters operate off campus.

Local police in both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township said Ivins' name did not turn up on any incident reports or restraining orders.

Kappa Kappa Gamma also has chapters at nearby colleges in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington. One official said investigators were working off the theory that Ivins chose to mail the letters from the Princeton chapter to confuse investigators if he ever were to emerge as a suspect in the case.

Five people died and 17 others sickened by the anthrax plot, which was launched on the heels of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The following August, investigators announced they'd found anthrax spores inside the mailbox on Nassau Street, the town's main thoroughfare. FBI agents immediately began canvassing the town, showing residents a photograph of Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill, who at the time was a key "person of interest" in the case.

That theory fell flat and this June, the Justice Department exonerated Hatfill and agreed to a $5.8 million settlement with him.

In the past year, the FBI has turned a close eye on Ivins, whom a therapist said had a history of homicidal and sociopathic behavior. Prosecutors had planned to indict Ivins and seek the death penalty but, knowing investigators were closing in, he killed himself with an overdose of acetaminophen, the key ingredient in Tylenol.

With its top suspect now dead, the Justice Department is considering closing the "Amerithrax" investigations. It has been among the FBI's most publicized unsolved cases and, if it is closed, authorities are expected to unseal court documents that outline much of their case against Ivins.

Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report from Mount Laurel, N.J. Copyright © 2008
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Anthrax widow's lawsuit could get boost from FBI's Ivins break

Associated Press - August 5, 2008 7:23 PM ET

MIAMI (AP) - Supporters of an anthrax widow's lawsuit blaming the U.S. for her husband's death are hoping the case gets a boost from the FBI's break in the case.

The widow of a tabloid photo editor who died in the 2001 anthrax attacks insists in a $50-million lawsuit filed years ago that the U.S. government was ultimately responsible. Her attorney says they've contended all along it was an "inside job." And her son-in-law says the case now seems "pretty much a slam dunk."

The FBI is now pinning the blame on government scientist Bruce Ivins, who killed himself last week while being investigated.

The lawsuit says the government did not safeguard anthrax bacteria at the Army research center in Maryland where Ivins worked.

Federal attorneys are appealing a federal judge's refusal to dismiss the suit. They're arguing that even if a U.S. employee is found responsible, that person would have acted outside "the scope of employment" and the government isn't liable.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Bush Pressured FBI to Blame al-Qaeda for Anthrax; McCain fingered Iraq on Letterman; Can't we Change the Name of Washington

by juan cole (reposted)
Tuesday Aug 5th, 2008 8:19 AM

From a Tuesday, August 5, 2008 entry on Informed Comment, Juan Cole's blog

Bush Pressured FBI to Blame al-Qaeda for Anthrax;
McCain fingered Iraq on Letterman;
Can't we Change the Name of Washington National Airport?

One thing I haven't seen mentioned with regard to the attempt to implicate Iraq in the anthrax scare in fall of 2001 is the reason Iraq was hard to rule out as a source. It was that it clearly originated in labs in Ames, Iowa. The Reagan administration had permitted the provision to Iraq of anthrax precursors . . . from Ames, Iowa. That is, the Republican Party was proliferating weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, even though his regime was known to have deployed poison gas against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds. And, because Iraqi anthrax would have shown the Ames ancestry if analyzed, a foreign provenance-- however unlikely-- could not be ruled out by investigators.

In the intelligence world, Iraqi anthrax, given Iraq by Washington, showing up in the US would have been called "blowback"-- the word for a covert operation that goes rogue and ends up harming the original sponsor. But even the inability to rule Iraq out was a form of blowback. Reagan and Rumsfeld muddied the waters for terrorism investigators by giving WMD to terrorist regimes.

The New York Daily News reveals that

'After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, [FBI Director Robert] Mueller was "beaten up" during President Bush's morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide. "They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East," the retired senior FBI official told The News.'

As usual, when Bush and Cheney could not get what they wanted in the way of propaganda from the FBI or CIA, they just made it up. That fall, McCain piled on:

' LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN: I think were doing fine. I think well do fine. The second phase - if I could just make one, very quickly - the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I dont have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may - and I emphasize may - have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, thats when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made. '

Hat tip to Think Progress

posted by Juan Cole @ 8/05/2008 12:43:00 AM

Patrick Leger


Scientist’s Suicide Linked to Anthrax Inquiry (August 2, 2008)

Anthrax Case Renews Questions on Bioterror (August 3, 2008)

“Scientist’s Suicide Is Linked to Anthrax Inquiry” (front page, Aug. 2):

Almost seven years ago, my phone started to ring early in the morning. My friends were calling. “Martha! Matt Lauer says you have anthrax!”

I was stunned — I had left the hospital a few days after Bob Stevens, our co-worker at American Media Inc., died of anthrax. The hazmat team from the Environmental Protection Agency had found anthrax spores on my desk. But I had been told that I had pneumonia.

This was only one of the alarms over several months when at American Media we worried about our health and our jobs. I lost a million-dollar library that had the largest clip collection in the world next to that of The Times of London, which also served a tabloid. It was an invaluable biographical tool.

The building was sealed, and we never entered it again. The F.B.I. in pairs interviewed us individually. As my interview ended, one asked me, “Do you have a theory on who would want to do this?” I was speechless. “No, do you?” I managed.

Now, a man one could easily build a theory around has committed suicide. If he proves to be the perpetrator, why did it take so long to identify him?

Martha Moffett

Lake Worth, Fla., Aug. 2, 2008

The writer is the former chief librarian at American Media Inc.

To the Editor:

Re “Anthrax Case Renews Questions on Bioterror Effort and Safety” (front page, Aug. 3):

The death of Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, a government anthrax specialist and the F.B.I.’s lead suspect in the 2001 anthrax attack, should close a sad chapter in domestic terrorism. We may never know whether the perpetrator’s intention was to draw attention to our lack of national preparedness for bioterrorism. But it is unmistakable that the legacy of the anthrax event, and the ensuing national call to arms, was a radical upgrade of our ability to respond to deliberate or naturally occurring infectious disease outbreaks.

Some critics argue that the multibillion-dollar investment in infrastructure and research diverts funds from more pressing infectious disease problems, and they suggest that we are less secure because more scientists have access to restricted agents. But I stoutly dispute these notions, having witnessed firsthand in 2001 the confusion and helplessness of unprepared scientific and public health professionals.

I am director of a leading Northeast academic biodefense and emerging infectious diseases research center. Our investment has decidedly increased our knowledge of select agent and naturally occurring epidemic pathogens. It has also facilitated a new generation of countermeasures in the form of new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines against dangerous pathogens.

The anthrax outbreak caught a nation off guard, but we are markedly stronger today. David Perlin

Newark, Aug. 3, 2008

The writer is director of the Public Health Research Institute.

To the Editor:

Focus on Dr. Bruce E. Ivins’s suicide obscures the remarkable fact that the anthrax that killed five people came from a United States defense laboratory, even if evidence against any individual is not conclusive.

Before 2001, some of us in public health described bioterrorism as an exaggerated threat. No one had ever died from bioterrorism, and we warned that the proliferation of laboratories studying anthrax and other biological weapons agents was a terrible mistake, diverting money from real health needs and dangerously multiplying the number of people with access.

After the 2001 anthrax letters, our warnings were buried in an avalanche of fear-mongering; to this day, billions are being spent to support many more such labs.

With the only bioterrorist casualties traceable to a defense laboratory, isn’t it time for a new look at whether the bioterrorism scare was as fictitious and harmful as the W.M.D. scare that helped lead us into the Iraq war disaster, and whether the huge spending on so-called bioterrorism defense continues to increase the public’s risk from accidental or purposeful release of the dangerous materials being studied?

Hillel W. Cohen

Bronx, Aug. 2, 2008

The writer is an associate professor of epidemiology and population health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.


Anthrax widow's lawsuit blames US for death

MIAMI (AP) — The widow of a tabloid photo editor who died in the 2001 anthrax attacks insisted in a $50 million federal lawsuit filed years ago that the U.S. government was ultimately responsible for his death.

Now that the FBI is pinning the blame on government scientist Bruce Ivins, the lawsuit brought by Maureen Stevens looks positively clairvoyant. And results of the FBI investigation could have a major effect on the outcome of her case.

"We were right all along," Patrick Hogan, the son-in-law of Maureen and the late Robert Stevens, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It seems to me it's pretty much a slam dunk."

Stevens was a photo editor at American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, Sun and Globe gossip tabloids, when he was exposed to anthrax that was mailed to AMI offices in Boca Raton. Stevens died Oct. 5, 2001, the first of five people to be killed and 17 others to be sickened in the anthrax attacks.

Two years later, Maureen Stevens filed her lawsuit. In it, she claims the U.S. government was negligent because it failed to safeguard strains of the deadly anthrax bacteria at the U.S. Army disease research center at Fort Detrick, Md.

The government, her lawsuit says, "owed a duty of care, the highest degree of care" in handling of anthrax and supervising employees who had access to it. Although she didn't know it when the lawsuit was filed, Ivins was one of those employees, a microbiologist who was working on an anthrax antidote. Ivins committed suicide last week as he was being investigated.

"One of the real areas of satisfaction, if you can call it that, is that we've maintained all along this was an inside job," said Richard Schuler, Maureen Stevens' attorney.

The case is unique among the legal actions brought after the anthrax attacks, according to the lawyers involved. Employees of a postal facility in Washington, D.C., where two workers died, sued the Postal Service for allegedly failing to protect them, but a federal judge in 2004 ruled the service is immune.

If the federal government ultimately names Ivins as the anthrax attack perpetrator, Schuler said the government's lawyers should drop their long battle and settle the lawsuit. He noted that another scientist wrongly implicated by the FBI in the plot, Steven Hatfill, recently was paid $5.8 million to settle his lawsuit against the Justice Department.

"It's been a long road for this family," Schuler said. "I hope somebody who has some authority will call us and make it right with this family."

Maureen Stevens declined an interview request, deferring to her attorney. The lawsuit, also filed on behalf of the couple's three grown children, seeks a maximum of $50 million in compensatory damages for the government's alleged negligence in Stevens' death. Schuler said that figure represents the upper reaches of a possible damage award or settlement.

Two of the Stevens children did not return phone messages or e-mails seeking comment Tuesday. Hogan, husband of daughter Heidi, said he's hopeful that the FBI has its man in Ivins.

"It seems to me they botched this thing from the beginning. It was one of their own people," Hogan said. "I'm just very happy that they actually found somebody."

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined comment Tuesday on the lawsuit. But in court, federal attorneys have fought hard to get the Stevens claim dismissed and currently are appealing a federal judge's refusal to do so. The case is on hold pending the outcome of that.

One court document contends that even if a U.S. employee is found responsible for the anthrax attacks, those acts are "beyond the scope of employment" and the government isn't liable. In the alternative, the federal lawyers say such actions were controlled by someone else and not the government, so it shouldn't have to pay the Stevens family.

"The United States denies as a matter of law and fact that the plaintiff is entitled to the relief sought," the government lawyers said in court papers.

The next development in the lawsuit will be a ruling later this year from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the U.S. government and a private laboratory named as a possible second source of the anthrax have a duty under Florida law to protect the public from such lethal materials.

The state court was asked to resolve that legal question by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which is considering the government's appeal of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley refusing the dismiss the case.



Anthrax Dryer a Key To Probe

Suspect Borrowed Device From Lab

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 5, 2008; Page A01


Bruce E. Ivins, the government's leading suspect in the 2001 anthrax killings, borrowed from a bioweapons lab that fall freeze-drying equipment that allows scientists to quickly convert wet germ cultures into dry spores, according to sources briefed on the case.
This Story
Ivins's possession of the drying device, known as a lyopholizer, could help investigators explain how he might have been able to send letters containing deadly anthrax spores to U.S. senators and news organizations.

The device was not commonly used by researchers at the Army's sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked as a scientist, employees at the base said. Instead, sources said, Ivins had to go through a formal process to check out the lyopholizer, creating a record on which

authorities are now relying. He did at least one project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would have given him reason to use the drying equipment, according to a former colleague in his lab.

Ivins committed suicide last week. As authorities in Washington debated yesterday how to close the long investigation of him -- a step that would signal they think no one else is culpable in the anthrax attacks -- more details began to emerge about the nature of the case they developed against him.

In recent months, investigators have collected circumstantial building blocks in an effort to establish Ivins's alleged role in the attacks, which traumatized the nation and prompted stringent mail-handling policies. Letters containing the anthrax spores killed five people, including two D.C. area postal workers, and sickened 17 others.

Scientific analysis helped researchers pinpoint the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases as the likely source of the powder, which was the Ames strain of anthrax bacteria used in various projects at Fort Detrick. Further testing allowed them to narrow down the age of the substance, concluding that it had been cultivated no more than two years before the attacks.

Eventually, through more elaborate DNA testing of the power and tissue cultures from the victims, they determined that the powder probably came from supplies made by Ivins, to which about 10 other people had access. Authorities last week cited "new and sophisticated scientific tools" that helped advance the investigation.

Ivins was not charged before his death July 29. Paul F. Kemp, his attorney, has repeatedly asserted Ivins's innocence, and colleagues and friends say government officials fixed on the wrong man in a race to close a seven-year investigation rife with dead ends and missteps. They also note that other U.S. scientists had access to some of the same material and equipment that authorities apparently used to focus on Ivins.

The lyopholizer Ivins used in the fall of 2001 is commonly employed by pharmaceutical companies and laboratories, as well as food processors, to freeze a liquid broth of bacteria and quickly transform it into a dry solid without a thawing stage.

Scientists and biodefense experts familiar with USAMRIID's procedures say that Ivins's department rarely used such freeze-dryers, because the researchers there worked with anthrax bacteria in a liquid form.

"Dry anthrax is much harder to work with," said one scientist familiar with Ivins's lab. A lyopholizer would fit inside the ventilated "biosafety cabinet" at the lab and could have been used without drawing notice, the scientist said. The machine could have processed a few small batches of anthrax liquid in less than a day, he said.

Other biodefense experts noted that the drying step could have been carried out with equipment no more complicated than a kitchen oven. "It is the simplest . . . but it is the least reproducible," said Sergei Popov, a former Soviet bioweapons scientist who now specializes in biodefense at George Mason University. "If you go too fast you get 'sand,' " he said, referring to the coarser anthrax powder used in the first attacks, in September 2001.

The second batch of letters contained a much finer powder. "To me, it all indicates that the person experimented with the ways to dry the spores and produced small batches -- some of them not so successfully -- he later used to fill up different envelopes," Popov said. "The spores are naturally clumpy. As I understand, he just overbaked the first batches."

Many of the key documents that would have supported the prosecution of Ivins could be unveiled this week after Justice Department and FBI officials meet with families of the anthrax victims. Authorities were contacting relatives yesterday and seeking a time to meet.

Investigators have been wrong before about who may have perpetrated the attacks. In June, the Justice Department agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill, a former Fort Detrick researcher once labeled a "person of interest" in the case, a $5.8 million settlement to forgo a privacy lawsuit.


mysteries remain, including whether the attacks that involved letters mailed from Florida and Princeton, N.J., could have been carried out by one person. And many questions remain about Ivins.

Safety officials and lawmakers have wondered how the scientist was able to maintain his security clearance despite emotional problems that led Jean C. Duley, a therapist, to seek a protective order against him last month.

The Army issued final rules last week that would cover workers who act in an aggressive or threatening manner. Those employees would be denied access to toxic or lethal biological agents under the revised regulations. Other potentially disqualifying personality traits include "arrogance, inflexibility, suspiciousness, hostility . . . and extreme moods or mood swings," according to the document.

A spokeswoman for USAMRIID said Fort Detrick had been operating under interim rules covering the same behavior for some time.

Staff writers Del Quentin Wilber, Michael S. Rosenwald and Mary Beth Sheridan and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

How Solid Is the Anthrax Evidence?

A technician at the US Army's Fort Detrick biomedical research laboratory in Maryland opens a letter addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, which was suspected of containing anthrax, December, 2001.
HO / AFP / Getty

While the FBI waits to formally release its evidence against Bruce E. Ivins, the microbiologist it claims to have linked to the anthrax mailings seven years ago, who killed himself on July 29, the public is getting a sneak peek — by way of federal leaks to the media. The leaks are piling up almost too fast to keep track of. Some seem damning, others perplexing, but the pause is creating a strange void — in which leaks are followed by rebuttals from Ivins' colleagues and his attorney (who steadfastly denies that his client had any role in the attacks) and then followed by more leaks. The result leaves neither Ivins nor the FBI looking good.

Most notably, unnamed federal officials are telling media outlets that the FBI used new DNA technology to link the anthrax that killed five people in 2001 to anthrax handled by Ivins in his federal lab. But scientists who knew Ivins — and some who didn't — tell TIME this is not a simple matter, technically speaking.

For one thing, a group of people have access to the anthrax at any given lab. "What you can do with all those forensic techniques is trace the anthrax to a lab, but you can't trace it to a person," says Meryl Nass, a Maine doctor who studies the anthrax vaccine and was a professional acquaintance of Ivins for more than 15 years. What's more, Nass adds, the link is not accurate with 100% certainty. "You can't convict someone with that evidence."

Moreover, it is hard to understand why the match could not simply be explained by the lab's prominent involvement in the federal investigation, notes Randall Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and a senior associate at the Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The FBI itself sent the anthrax letters to Ivins and his colleagues at the biodefense lab for analysis "almost immediately" following the attacks in 2001, confirms Caree Vander-Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked. An FBI spokesperson referred TIME to the spokesperson for the FBI's Washington Field Office, who did not return a call requesting comment.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that bioterrorism cases do not generally produce stellar forensic evidence. "The nature of biological weapons is such that it is very difficult to figure out where something came from," says Larsen, author of a 2008 book on homeland security titled Our Own Worst Enemy. "The FBI does a marvelous job with guns and bombs, but anthrax is extremely difficult."

In the face of this challenge, Ivins' lawyer says, the FBI stalked his client in pursuit of evidence he didn't have, driving him to drink and to depression. Ivins took at least two polygraph tests, says his attorney Paul Kemp, and apparently passed both of them. "That certainly was our impression," he says. "That's certainly what he was told."

Contrary to previous media reports, Kemp says his client had not been negotiating a plea agreement at the time of his death. Indeed, contrary to some suggestions in initial reports, the grand jury investigating the case was at least a few weeks from handing down any kind of indictment. Kemp and Ivins met with the FBI four or five times, beginning last December, after the bureau informed Ivins that "he could be a suspect," Kemp says. Most recently, Kemp says, he met with agents the day Ivins committed suicide, not knowing he was already dead.

Ivins was "totally responsive to every single question and never refused to answer," Kemp says. Over the past seven years, before he was a suspect in the case, Ivins had been interviewed 20 to 25 times in the case. He had cooperated fully and had his security clearances renewed, Kemp says.

Given that the government already had to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement for linking an innocent government scientist, Steven Hatfill, to the attacks, FBI officials are clearly worried about their reputation for bumbling the anthrax case and are eager to share what they know. But they are waiting to proceed publicly until a judge unseals the evidence in the Ivins case and all the victims and their families have been briefed on the details. More information may become public in the next couple of days. Amid all the leaks and whispers over this grim episode in a grim case, some hard information will be a welcome development.

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  The Sheep Incident

Written by Scott Cianciosi on March 17th, 2008 at 10:45 am

It was half past midnight on March 17th, 1968. Keith Smart, the director of epidemiology and ecology at Utah's Dugway Proving Grounds, was awakened by the ringing of a phone. On the other end was Dr. Bode, a professor at the University of Utah, and the director of the school's contract with Dugway. There was a problem. Calls had been coming in. About 27 miles outside of the base, in the aptly-named Skull Valley, thousands of sheep had suddenly died. There were some survivors among the flocks, but it was clear that their hours were numbered. Veterinarians were dispatched to euthanize the few remaining animals.

Army officials began drafting their official denial. A few days earlier, one of their planes had flown high over the Utah desert at Dugway with a bellyful of nerve agent. The plane's mission was simple: using a specially rigged delivery system, it was to fly to a specific set of coordinates and spray its payload over a remote section of the Utah desert. This test was a small part of the ongoing chemical and biological weapons research at Dugway, and it was one of three tests held that particular day. The flight would soon prove to be far more important than anyone could have guessed at the time.

The sprawling 800,000 acres of Dugway Proving Ground is a mix of target ranges, dispersal grounds, laboratories, and military bunkers. The facility was established in the 1940s to provide the military with a remote locale to conduct safer testing. It was briefly shut down following World War 2, but the base enjoyed a grand reopening during the Korean War. By 1958, it was the official home of the Army Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Weapons School. The base tested all manner of unconventional military hardware; from researching new toxic agents to developing antidotes and protective clothing.

In March 1968, the toxin under scrutiny was VX, one of the most potent nerve agents in existence. The original compound was created by Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist working at Imperial Chemical Industries. The liquid proved to be an effective pesticide and it was quickly put on the market under the name Amiton. Not long afterwards, however, it was taken off the market for being too toxic to handle safely. The agent's extreme toxicity drew the attention of government weapons research labs, whose scientists were always on the lookout for more efficient ways to kill people. Amiton, the pesticide too successful for its own good, was to become the “V” class of nerve agent. The majority of the research done on V-Class agents went into developing a potent weapons-grade version of the chemical. That research birthed VX.

A Target Epicenter at Dugway (Credit: CLUI)

A Target Epicenter at Dugway (Credit: CLUI)

VX was a triumph among the biological warfare community. Odorless and tasteless, it's three times as toxic as Sarin. In initial trials, this over-achieving compound was also found to be highly stable, enabling long shelf life and environmental persistence. VX works by blocking chemicals in the victim's body from functioning. It prevents the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from allowing muscles to relax, resulting in the contraction of every muscle in the body. Exposure to a minute or diluted dose of VX will cause muscle twitching, drooling, excessive sweating, and involuntary defecation, among other unpleasantries. Exposure to a lethal dose — about ten milligrams — will cause convulsions, paralysis, and eventually asphyxiation due to sustained contraction of the diaphragm muscle. Unless the affected skin is cleaned and an antidote is administered immediately, a single drop of liquid VX will kill a person in around ten minutes.

On March 13th, Dugway ran a series of three tests using VX. The tests were routine, like any of the thousands of weapons tests that were conducted there over the previous twenty years. In the first test, an artillery shell packed with VX was fired onto the range; and in the second, 160 gallons of the compound were burned in an open pit. Both tests were completed without incident. The third test involved delivery via airplane, with over a ton of a special VX mixture sprayed over the desert. Unbeknownst to the pilot, the spray nozzle that controlled the flow of the chemical had broken. As he climbed to a higher altitude, the chemical continued to seep from the plane. Winds that day were blowing between 5-20 mph, with gusts reaching 35 mph. These strong easterly winds carried the VX straight to Skull Valley. The next day, the sheep grazing in the area began to die, and within days thousands of them had perished. The government and local numbers differ, but anywhere between 3,483 and 6,400 sheep died in the aftermath of the test.

Skull Valley resident Ray Peck was working in his yard the evening after the tests, but retired early after developing an earache. The next morning the ground outside his home was littered with dead birds, and he watched as a dying rabbit struggled in the distance. A helicopter touched down soon after and unleashed its cargo of equipment and scientists upon the confused family. They quickly collected wildlife carcasses, performed blood tests on the Pecks, and departed. Though they suffered no fatalities from their exposure, the family complained of numerous ailments in the years following the tests. Ray Peck said he began suffering from violent headaches, numbness and paranoia. His daughters — children at the time of the incident — experienced an unusually high rate of miscarriage in their adult years. While there's no way of definitively knowing what caused the problems, the Pecks believe their exposure to VX is the cause of their many health problems.

The Army was characteristically roundabout in their comments on the incident. They admitted to having tested a chemical in that immediate time period. They even made mention that the plane carrying the VX may have malfunctioned. However, they assured the public that the massive, unexplained die-off could not possibly have been caused by the ton of VX dropped less than 30 miles from Skull Valley. Despite their assurances that they were innocent of any wrongdoing, the Army ultimately chose to pay the ranchers for their losses and bury the animals on base property.

Satellite Image of Dugway Proving Grounds


Satellite Image of Dugway Proving Grounds


The Army worked furiously to stuff all of the worms back into the Dugway can, but the damage was already done. The Dugway Sheep Kill received widespread attention both at home and abroad. The outrage over the incident was intensified just a year later when the US media was tipped off to the existence of CHASE. The Cut Holes And Sink 'Em program was the Army's plan for discreetly disposing of dangerous surplus materials. It involved the scuttling of ships loaded with the deadly cargo up to 250 miles offshore. Unfortunately for the US Army's PR department, some of the materials involved were mustard gas, Sarin, and VX. Apparently a good many people had serious misgivings about dumping dangerous chemicals into the ocean. These concerns were further reinforced by the fact that the Army itself wasn't sure whether or not the metal and concrete slabs that housed the chemicals would survive the massive pressure during their 16,000 foot descent to the ocean floor.

In 1974 the US Senate ratified the international Biological Weapons Convention which prohibited the use of toxin-based weapons such as VX. Less than two years later, on July 4th, 1976, the base was again in the news; this time after 20 wild horses were found dead. The horses had died where they stood, many with open oozing sores and ashen mucous membranes. Scott Baranowski, a soldier on duty that day, was the first to arrive. He also took part in the investigation and burial of the sick and dying horses. Within days, fifty of the animals had died, and Baranowski found himself bedridden with a high fever, severe joint pain, and headaches.

The government's internal testing on the carcasses came up negative for all known chemical nerve agents. The Army refused to officially admit fault for the deaths and ultimately attributed them to dehydration. The official report states that the animals were confused by a recent relocation of a watering hole and had died before discovering the new one — a phenomenon that was later observed in some populations of wild horses. The Bureau of Land Management rejected this explanation, citing that some of the horses had died within a few yards of the new water source, and that all of them had died in a relatively short amount of time. Since the horses were wild, there were no legal damages to be claimed or paid, so the Army's explanation was reluctantly accepted. As for Scott Baranowski, he reports that he has suffered chronic health issues since that early July day. Attempts to obtain his medical records from that time have met with little success. Baranowski has been told they "don't exist."

Some of Ray Peck's dead sheep. (Credit: Deseret News)

Some of Ray Peck's dead sheep. (Credit: Deseret News)

While the Dugway incidents cannot take all the credit, they certainly contributed to the volatile politics of the late 1960s and early 70s. The American public had grown weary of the Vietnam war, and the Army's dangerous tests and reckless disposal of deadly chemicals were too much for many people to accept. Animals had been dying for decades to help improve the technology of warmaking, but the casualties of Dugway and CHASE actually managed to impede military progress: In response to public protests over these incidents, President Nixon disbanded the Army Chemical Corp, and took action to ratify the Geneva Protocol to prohibit chemical weapons in war.

In 1998, the government's report on federal and state studies from the incident twenty thirty years earlier was made public. The findings showed that the levels of VX were “sufficient to account for the death of the sheep.” Even in the face of this evidence, the Army has failed to take official responsibility for the debacle.

Further Reading:
Wikipedia: Dugway Sheep Incident
Wikipedia: VX Nerve Agent
Time article: "Sheep and the Army"
CLUI Dugway page
Article on Dugway's dehydrated horses
Toxic Utah

Scott Cianciosi is a writer and teacher currently living in South Korea. At night, he dons a cape and fights crime on the streets of Seoul.