Pentagon began project to replicate deadly anthrax strain before 9/11

Ivins did not have the ways and means to weaponize his anthrax. But West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor that has been selected to create the genetically altered anthrax did.


SEP 04, 2001

U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits

This article was reported and written by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William J. Broad.

Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits of the global treaty banning such weapons.

The 1972 treaty forbids nations from developing or acquiring weapons that spread disease, but it allows work on vaccines and other protective measures. Government officials said the secret research, which mimicked the major steps a state or terrorist would take to create a biological arsenal, was aimed at better understanding the threat.

The projects, which have not been previously disclosed, were begun under President Clinton and have been embraced by the Bush administration, which intends to expand them.

Earlier this year, administration officials said, the Pentagon drew up plans to engineer genetically a potentially more potent variant of the bacterium that causes anthrax, a deadly disease ideal for germ warfare.

The experiment has been devised to assess whether the vaccine now being given to millions of American soldiers is effective against such a superbug, which was first created by Russian scientists. A Bush administration official said the National Security Council is expected to give the final go-ahead later this month.

Administration officials said the need to keep such projects secret was a significant reason behind President Bush's recent rejection of a draft agreement to strengthen the germ-weapons treaty, which has been signed by 143 nations.

The draft would require those countries to disclose where they are conducting defensive research involving gene-splicing or germs likely to be used in weapons. The sites would then be subject to international inspections.

Many national security officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations opposed the draft, arguing that it would give potential adversaries a road map to what the United States considers its most serious vulnerabilities.

Among the facilities likely to be open to inspection under the draft agreement would be the West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor that has been selected to create the genetically altered anthrax.

Several officials who served in senior posts in the Clinton administration acknowledged that the secretive efforts were so poorly coordinated that even the White House was unaware of their full scope.

The Pentagon's project to build a germ factory was not reported to the White House, they said. President Clinton, who developed an intense interest in germ weapons, was never briefed on the programs under way or contemplated, the officials said.

Designing a Delivery System

In the mid-1990's, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies stepped up their search for information about other nations' biological research programs, focusing on the former Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq and Libya, among others. Much of the initial emphasis was on the germs that enemies might use in an attack, officials said.

But in 1997, the agency embarked on Clear Vision, which focused on weapons systems that would deliver the germs.

Intelligence officials said the project was led by Gene Johnson, a senior C.I.A. scientist who had long worked with some of the world's deadliest viruses. Dr. Johnson was eager to understand the damage that Soviet miniature bombs — bomblets, in military parlance — might inflict.

Breeding More Potent Anthrax

In the 1990's, government officials also grew increasingly worried about the possibility that scientists could use the widely available techniques of gene-splicing to create even more deadly weapons.

Those concerns deepened in 1995, when Russian scientists disclosed at a scientific conference in Britain that they had implanted genes from Bacillus cereus, an organism that causes food poisoning, into the anthrax microbe.

The scientists said later that the experiments were peaceful; the two microbes can be found side-by-side in nature and, the Russians said, they wanted to see what happened if they cross-bred.

A published account of the experiment, which appeared in a scientific journal in late 1997, alarmed the Pentagon, which had just decided to require that American soldiers be vaccinated against anthrax. According to the article, the new strain was resistant to Russia's anthrax vaccine, at least in hamsters.

American officials tried to obtain a sample from Russia through a scientific exchange program to see whether the Russians had really created such a hybrid. The Americans also wanted to test whether the microbe could defeat the American vaccine, which is different from that used by Russia.

Despite repeated promises, the bacteria were never provided.

Eventually the C.I.A. drew up plans to replicate the strain, but intelligence officials said the agency hesitated because there was no specific report that an adversary was attempting to turn the superbug into a weapon.

This year, officials said, the project was taken over by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Pentagon lawyers reviewed the proposal and said it complied with the treaty. Officials said the research would be part of Project Jefferson, yet another government effort to track the dangers posed by germ weapons.

A spokesman for Defense Intelligence, Lt. Cmdr. James Brooks, declined comment. Asked about the precautions at Battelle, which is to create the enhanced anthrax, Commander Brooks said security was "entirely suitable for all work already conducted and planned for Project Jefferson."

Good find.

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JFK on secrecy and the press

Do these people deserve to

Duplicate. Please delete.

Do these people deserve to know how and why their loved ones were murdered? Do we deserve to know how and why 9/11 happened?

Anthrax attacks

The Commission seems to have decided not to address the anthrax terrorist attacks that followed close on the heels of September 11th, though they clearly fall under its legal mandate.

“Capitol Hill Anthrax Matches Army's Stocks, 5 Labs Can Trace Spores to Ft. Detrick”, Rick Weiss and Susan Schmidt, Washington Post, 16 Dec 2001 Early investigations into the source of the anthrax led to a US strain called Ames, often used for weaponization research by Army bioweapons labs. Despite some early polygraph interviews and a search at Ft. Detrick, the investigation in that direction seems to have ground to a halt.

Just before the outset of the 9/11 attacks the New York Times and the London Sunday Times broke the story of a growing international scandal involving US violations of its international biowarfare treaties, involving Operation Clear Vision and Project Jefferson, which were aimed at testing a makeshift anthrax lab, an “anthrax bomb” and the development of a new genetically modified strain of anthrax that would be more distributable and more resistant to antibiotics. The DIA announced at a press briefing that they had created a “new generation” of anthrax as part of Project Jefferson on September 9, 2001, on orders of Secretary Rumsfeld. In less than a month anthrax fitting this description was mailed to specific people, some of whom influence national perspective and policy and also opposed the current administration’s policies and the emerging Patriot Act, up to that point.

Just before the first anthrax envelope was mailed out the FBI contacted the University of Iowa at Ames, which for seventy years had maintained an extensive archive of every known strain of the natural pathogen anthrax, and provided culture samples for research on cures and weaponization to research facilities. After speaking with the FBI, the University agreed to destroy this valuable archive. A careful DNA and chemical analysis of the anthrax used in the attacks clearly identified it as an Ames strain, with sophisticated genetic engineering and advanced weaponization that could only have been created by an American biological warfare laboratory. Such analysis allows investigators to identify the specific batch from which the anthrax was cultured as well as a paper trail to the agency using it for weaponization research. With the archive destroyed, this was impossible.

The new strain was more resistant to the usual antibiotic treatments and more weaponized and distributable than had been seen up to that time, according to press reports. It had jumped from billions to a trillion spores per gram, showed no signs of milling, and no electromagnetic charge. The cure and preventive of choice was Cipro, a product of Bioport, a company linked to the Battelle Memorial Labs in Ohio and Porton, both bioweapons contractors. The White House staff were put on Cipro on September 12, the first anthrax mailing arrived in October.

There is clearly more to this story and the “Amerithrax” investigation continues under FBI direction, but most leads point to a US military bioweapon source. These leads might have told us more about the strategy of tension and false sponsorship for terrorist acts if they had been followed more rigorously.

Do these people deserve to know how and why their loved ones were murdered? Do we deserve to know how and why 9/11 happened?