Seven Years Later: Electrons Unlocked Post-9/11 Anthrax Mail Mystery

By | September 20, 2008

A key part of the FBI’s early investigation was finding whether the germ that killed five people in late 2001 was weaponized. Although they found the answer, scientists had to keep mum until the agency completed its inquiry.

When materials scientist Joseph Michael and his team at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., trained their high-powered electron microscope on anthrax spore samples the FBI had sent them in February 2002, they made two crucial discoveries: The first confirmed previous findings that the Bacillus anthracis spores mailed to U.S. Senate offices and various media outlets (shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks) contained silicon, a substance used to turn anthrax-causing spores into a biological weapon.

But it was Sandia’s next discovery that marked a critical turning point in the feds’s probe of the mysterious mailings, which killed five people, injured 17 and prompted thousands more who were potentially exposed to the deadly spores to take potent antibiotics—in particular, Ciprofloxacin (known to irritate the gastrointestinal tract and cause joint swelling). Using highly sensitive transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), the researchers came to a startling realization: The silicon had grown organically inside the Bacillus anthracis samples, nothing had been added to weaponize the spores. “The silicon was not on the outside of the spore,” says Michael, who headed up Sandia’s investigation, “but rather incorporated on the inside.”

It was this key information that helped the FBI to rule out the likelihood that a terrorist organization was behind the anthrax mailings and prompted the agency to turn its attention to U.S. government labs as the possible source of the anthrax. This move eventually led the agency to conclude that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), a federal biodefense research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., who initially assisted with the investigation, was the culprit. Ivins, 62, two months ago committed suicide as prosecutors prepared to charge him in connection with the mailings. …

In addition, the August/October 2002 newsletter from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), a research organization that the government often turns to for help analyzing potentially pathological substances, reported that a mass spectrometry analysis found silica—a staple in professionally engineered germ warfare powders for decades—in the powder sent to Sen. Daschle. The silica was believed to be there to prevent the anthrax spores from aggregating and make it easier for them to disperse into the air, according to Matsumoto, who added that any such weaponized form of anthrax is “more than 500 times more lethal than untreated spores.”

… The researchers could find no way that the silica could be placed inside the spore without leaving a residue on the spore’s outermost layer. (They found none.) Instead, the researchers determined that the silica formed inside the spore naturally. After only a month examining the anthrax samples in March 2002, Michael and his team were convinced, contrary to other reports, that the anthrax used in the attacks had not been weaponized. … In the end, it was at Sandia where scientists cracked the mystery behind the mailings. The problem was, says Michael, that he had to keep mum on his findings—which might have calmed a jittery nation still reeling from the 9/11 terror attack—until the FBI wrapped up its investigation. “That’s been one of the really frustrating things for Paul and me,” Michael says. “We knew the answers but couldn’t tell anyone”  – sciam

… if the spores were coated, that would indicate a large state-sponsored manufacturing facility probably made them.  … Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard and former bioweaponeer Ken Alibek have both seen large, clear electron micrographs of the Daschle anthrax.   They have reported that they saw NO coating on the spores.  – ainvest

Interesting. I found answers to several of my lingering questions tonight. I’d still like to know why the Whitehouse knew to start taking Cipro on 9/11, weeks before anyone knew anything about the Anthrax attacks, however.

A conspiracy theorist named Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz, himself an FBI suspect for a time, fingered as “the chief suspects in these anthrax attacks: the CIA’s anthrax contractors under “Project Clearvision William Patrick, III and the Russian defector Kanatjan Alibekov, alias Ken Alibek.” according to an article on Rense.  His site is wordy, but I didn’t find any evidence. Why does he make these claims? I read Alibek’s book. He knows his stuff. It would be so weird if he was one of the anthrax attackers himself. But it was very weird that Ivins, one of the 9/11 investigative team was guilty. Here is my post from 10/18/2001:

Why, then, do we hear elsewhere that “The high-grade form of anthrax in a letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle may be the work of the Al Qaeda network, or it may have come from some other source. But either way, it has forced authorities to a sharp conclusion: The perpetrators are much more sophisticated than many originally believed. The key here is particle size. The anthrax found in Senator Daschle’s office was fine enough that it could float easily through the air, rather than simply falling to the ground. ” [ CSMonitor 10-18-01]

According to a press conference on 10/18/01 with Tom Ridge, head of the new Office of Homeland Security, the anthrax attacks in NY, Washington and Florida all seem to be the same strain and they are not “weaponized”. This means they are not altered to be about 5 microns (optimal infecting size) and they are not coated to be easily aerosolized.

And according to the New York Times, “Although other government officials have declined to describe the material as “weaponized,” Gephardt said, “I think we’ve got to stop parsing words and trying to be anything other than accurate about what this is.” “This is weapons grade material … This is highly sophisticated material. It is small in size and it aerosolizes,” he said. “It’s small in diameter, which means its been milled.” [ NYTimes 10-23-01]

“Weaponization” is used here to mean preparation of the form of anthrax found in the Daschle letter: fine particles, very narrow size range, treated to eliminate static charge so it won’t clump and will float in the air. The weaponization process used was extraordinarily effective. The particles have a narrow size range (1.5-3 microns diameter), typical of the US process. The extraordinary concentration (one trillion spores per gram) and purity of the letter anthrax is believed to be characteristic of material made by the US process. A reporter who writes on anthrax vaccine has privately stated that four labs have told him that under the electron microscope the appearance of the sample is like that of un-milled anthrax spores. Milled samples are identifiable because they contain debris. The optimal US process did not use milling. The US weaponization process is secret-Bill Patrick, its inventor, says it involves a COMBINATION of  chemicals. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (Washington DC) is studying the anthrax using an energy dispersive X-ray spectroscope, which can detect the presence of extremely tiny quantities of chemicals, traces of several chemicals have been found. The Senate sample contains a special form of silica used in the US process. It does not contain bentonite (used by the Iraqis). – talkingdrum 2003(?)

That’s two mentions of Bill (William) Patrick. Who is he?

Dr. William C. Patrick III spent over three decades at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the U.S. Army’s base for biological weapons research. From 1951 to 1969, he developed germ agents for warfare. When the U.S. officially ended its offensive program in 1969, Patrick’s work turned to germ defenses. … Seven and a half grams of anthrax could infect everyone in a 14-story building. What Bill Patrick sprays here, though, is a harmless simulant.

William Patrick was the originator of the first anthrax weaponization process. He has five patents on anthrax weaponization and wrote a paper in 1999 setting out exactly what an anthrax attack by mail would look like. Patrick’s scenario is very similar to what actually happened in 2001. For example, he suggests no more than 2.5 grams of anthrax per envelope; the envelopes contained two grams. One footnote in his paper reveals ‘we now have the ability to purify to one trillion spores per gram.’

… Ken Alibek headed up the Soviet bio-weapon programs until defecting to the USA in 1992. He brought with him the technology that was key in the anthrax attacks: using polymerized glass to attach silica to the anthrax spores. He worked for Battelle Memorial Institute in the late 90s. –dissvoice

This image many not be quite right. Silica nodules like this were not seen. It was more like a glassy coating, like the silica was fused completely onto or into the spores, not on the outside as little bumps.

Glassy finish

… . About a year and a half ago, a laboratory analyzing the Senate anthrax spores for the FBI reported the discovery of what appeared to be a chemical additive that improved the bond between the silica and the spores. U.S. intelligence officers informed foreign biodefense off icials that this additive was “polymerized glass.” The officials who received this briefing—biowarfare specialists who work for the governments of two NATO countries—said they had never heard of polymerized glass before. This was not surprising. “Coupling agents” such as polymerized glass are not part of the usual tool kit of scientists and engineers making powders designed for human inhalation. Also known as “sol gel” or “spin-on-glass,” polymerized glass is “a silane or siloxane compound that’s been dissolved in an alcohol- based solvent like ethanol,” says Jacobsen. It leaves a thin glassy coating that helps bind the silica to particle surfaces.

… “If there’s polymerized glass [in the Senate samples], it really narrows the field [of possible suspects],” says Jacobsen, who has been following the anthrax investigations keenly. “Polymerized glasses are exotic materials, and nanotechnology is something you just don’t do in your basement.” By March 2002, federal investigators had lab results indicating that the Senate anthrax spores were treated with polymerized glass, and stories began to appear in the media. CNN reported an “unusual coating” on the spores, and Newsweek referred to a “chemical compound” that was “unknown to experts who have worked in the field for years.”

About-face

By the fall of 2002, the awe-inspiring anthrax of the previous spring had morphed into something decidedly less fearsome. According to sources on Capitol Hill, FBI scientists now reported that there was “no additive” in the Senate anthrax at all. Alibek said he examined electron micrographs of the anthrax spores sent to Senator Daschle and saw no silica. “But I couldn’t be absolutely sure,” Alibek says, “because I only saw three to five of these electron micrographs.” Even the astonishingly uniform particle size of 1.5 to 3 micrometers, mentioned in 2001 by Senator Bill Frist (R–TN), now included whopping 100-micrometer agglomerates, according to the new FBI description recounted by Capitol Hill aides. The reversal was so extreme that the former chief biological weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission, Richard Spertzel, found it hard to accept. “No silica, big particles, manual milling,” he says: “That’s what they’re saying now, and that radically contradicts everything we were told during the first year of this investigation.”

Military scientists did not back off their findings. The August/October 2002 newsletter from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) reported that a mass spectrometry analysis found silica in the powder sent to Senator Daschle (The AFIP Letter, August/October 2002, p. 6). “This was a key component,” said the institute’s deputy director, Florabel Mullick, in the AFIP newsletter. “Silica prevents the anthrax from aggregating, making it easier to aerosolize,” she added. Frank Johnson, chief of AFIP’s Chemical Pathology Division, corroborated this in an interview. “There was silica there,” said Johnson, “there was no mistaking it.” Maj. Gen. John S. Parker, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at the time of the attacks, says he saw AFIP’s lab reports. “There was a huge silicon spike” consistent with the presence of silica, he says. “It peaked near the top of the screen.”

Other agencies support this view today. For example, John Cicmanec, a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to EPA that the perpetrators did, in fact, use silica to weaponize the Senate anthrax spores …  – cryptome

This is what I was able to find in a few hours. I don’t know what to make of all of this. I guess if you wanted to be paranoid you could believe that covert US labs joined forces with a Russian expert, creating a new chemical process to make very fine glassy coated anthrax spores with no milling debris. You might imagine that this technology was used by the Neocons as a PSYOP to get the Patriot Act passed. As with 9/11, I guess you can believe the official story or the conspiracy theory. With our short attention spans, I’m not convinced that many people even care about the anthrax attacks these days. Seems like so long ago. Yawn.

0 thoughts on “Seven Years Later: Electrons Unlocked Post-9/11 Anthrax Mail Mystery

  1. TRO

    The US Government cannot manage to get social security checks mailed on time so why would anyone think they could organize and carry-out a conspiracy like this?

Leave a Reply