ISSN: 2157-2526
Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense
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The Bioterrorist Attacks on America

Yurii V. Ezepchuk*
Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor of Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, USA
Corresponding Author : Yurii V. Ezepchuk
Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor of Biochemistry
University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, USA
E-mail: ezepchuk@usa.net
Received April 18, 2011; Accepted July 18, 2012; Published July 20, 2012
Citation: Ezepchuk YV (2012) The Bioterrorist Attacks on America. J Bioterr Biodef 3:115. doi: 10.4172/2157-2526.1000115
Copyright: © 2012 Ezepchuk YV. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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The Anthrax Attacks
Three weeks after the September 11 attacks in the Eastern United States, an outbreak of anthrax began. The pathogen was spread via postal distribution; terrorists sent envelopes filled with the causative agent anthrax spores.
The first documented incident of illness associated with the circulation of anthrax was registered on October 2, 2001 in Florida. Photo-publisher Robert Stevens, age 63, was hospitalized with the diagnosis of meningitis and subsequently died on October 5, 2001. The autopsy showed that the death was caused by symptoms that had the characteristics of an anthrax infection, confirming a bacteriological inoculation. Stevens reported the first signs of illness arose on September 27, 2001 during a business trip in North Carolina. Researchers established that his death was the first incident with the lung form of anthrax in the USA since 1976 [1].
The second incident of anthrax exposure was registered by postal worker Ernesto Blanko, 73, who was working with Stevens in the same building belonging to the company American Media. Blanko’s illness symptoms appeared on September 28, but he did not seek medical assistance until October 1 with suspicion of pneumonia. After the death of Stevens, doctors began to pay more attention to bacteriological analyses, and it was eventually determined that Blanko was also exposed to anthrax. Thanks to intensive therapy with antibiotics, his life was saved [2].
The commission who conducted the investigation of the anthrax outbreak confirmed ten cases of the lung form of the illness and twelve cases of the skin form of anthrax. In the group with the lung form contamination, seven postal workers were exposed to the inhalation of contaminants in the process of working with contaminated mail as well as two press workers who also participated in mail handling of correspondence that contained anthrax spores. The outbreak seized Florida, New York, Nevada, and the District of Columbia.
With lightning speed, the development of events showed that America was not ready to combat a biological attack. Nonetheless, operational measures were taken over by public health and law enforcement, keeping the number of victims suffering from anthrax exposure to a minimum. In the places where the incidents of contamination were reported, authorities conducted necessary antiepidemic measures attempting to prevent the spread of this infection [3].
Letters with anthrax spores arrived in the offices of democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Everyone entering the buildings of congress and the senate underwent exposure to radiation with the application of additional disinfecting means. Similar precautions for decontamination of mail distribution were taken in the editing department of the New York Times and at the television station NBC where letters with anthrax spores were also received. In many points of correspondence sorting and separating equipment were assembled, providing purification from entering spores. Approximately one thousand people having contact with anthrax spores should have begun antibiotic Cipro within forty days, and despite the great cost, completely disinfecting the postal distribution system turned out to be not an easy task for everyone involved in this clean-up operation. Even months later after the outbreak of anthrax, spores appeared not only in one location, but another postal distribution center as well. In early 2002, traces of spores were found in approximately twenty pieces of commercial and business mail addressed to Federal Chairman Alan Greenspan. The infected pieces were detected at an undisclosed, offsite Federal Reserve mail facility, according to the US Central Bank [4].
Against the background of dramatic situations piling up in the country, newspapers from time to time featured articles about irresponsible actions of citizens. Pranksters sent envelopes with some type of safe powder, such as talcum, in order to scare their acquaintances and friends. The FBI warned ahead of time that chaos is nothing to joke about, and that whoever commits such actions will face serious consequences. Soon thirty pranksters answered for their actions in federal court and twenty-eight more in state courts. The method of jokes under the pretext of anthrax threats soon was suppressed [5]. However, the incidents of false threats of that magnitude settled into the minds of a few investigators who seriously considered elaborate versions of sending anthrax spores despite the fact that American sources had already rejected the idea that foreign terrorists committed these attacks.
I regularly followed the days of horrific panic regarding anthrax in the press. I was especially amazed by the answers of official representatives for the needs of average citizens and the entire organization about vaccinations against anthrax. Explanations came down to the fact that at that time the national healthcare system did not have an anti-anthrax vaccination available for people. “All anthrax vaccine is earmarked for the military and is not currently available to civilians” [6].
The US Centers for Disease Control developed a disposable chemical vaccine in the 1960s. Despite its minimal effectiveness, the vaccine was never improved. Eventually, I thoroughly followed the work of groups in charge of developing the Brachman vaccine (I also participated in working on a similar project in the Zagorsk Center of Bacteriological Weapons). The Brachman vaccine was licensed in 1970 as an inoculation preparation against anthrax and was given to soldiers in the American army. Its effectiveness was limited to military contingency services [7].
The project plan I supervised at the Zagorsk Center of Bacteriological Weapons involved comparing and engineering experiments with the chemical vaccine and the spore anthrax vaccine “STI.” To create a protective immunity, the vaccination required no less than two injections of the chemical vaccine, and then one injection of “STI” which provided a higher level of immunity protection [8]. Soviet military specialists gave full proof of the preferred spore vaccine “STI” that was developed with our spore-free vaccine.
In the 1980s, the Soviet Army used the aerosol vaccination of “STI” technology [9]. This vaccine was intended for extreme situations, such as the one which arose during the biological terrorist attack on the USA. This vaccine was meant to be distributed to high risk groups, so they could build their protective immunity against contamination of anthrax spores.
American specialists did not have adequate vaccinations available for the high-risk groups. They prescribed antibiotic Cipro for long periods of time (in some cases for a month and a half) to be taken daily in large doses to destroy the infectious bacteria [10]. Perhaps this was the first occurrence of prescribing and taking antibiotics with the goal of preventing infection. Every doctor knows that antibiotics are recommended only for medical treatment, not to prevent an infection. Taking antibiotics as a preventative measure causes the microorganisms to develop resistance to the antibiotics, rendering the antibiotics useless. In the near future, the consequences of the tactics American specialists used to fight the 9/11 outbreak of anthrax will be evident.
In the first days of panic, when it was still difficult to evaluate the true scale of the outbreak, I sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the letter, I proposed that the aerosol form of the vaccination be given to high-risk groups of the population. I did not receive a response. I then sent a scientific analysis to the state health department, but no one was interested in my suggestion. Other scientists specializing in this field from the Former Soviet Union offered similar propositions, but received the same lack of response of having their suggestions dismissed and/or ignored [11].
Investigation
Special interest representatives reported results of the investigation regarding the sources of biological weapons, explaining the participants of the operation were localized. Establishing the distributing location of the letters containing anthrax spores was not a difficult matter. The envelopes delivered to NBC News and Senator Daschle originated at a post office distribution center in Trenton, New Jersey. The postmarked date of the letter sent to NBC News was September 16, 2001 and October 8, 2001 to Senator Daschle [4].
The letters began arriving on September 25th. The first recipient was the post office of NBC News where a letter addressed to Tom Brokaw arrived. However, the envelope containing anthrax was evidently not opened immediately, as his assistant Erin O’Connor stated on October 12th. It was later discovered that this letter contained anthrax. A similar letter apparently arrived at American Media in Florida in the last week of September. At this time, no information regarding the source of the anthrax was known and/or available. The first symptoms of Stevens illness caused him to pass away on October 5th and Blanko survived only because he received necessary medical treatment was registered September 27-28.
Since anthrax was discovered on the premises of the publishing house and later in the postal distribution center in the city of Boca Raton, Florida, it is possible to assume that the powder spilled from the envelope while being transported. But where was this envelope placed? This proves to be unclear, as does the selection of the target - a company in a small Florida town. What is known is that Mohamad Atta and a few of the 9/11 plane hijackers lived there during a summer training school.
From my point of view, sending anthrax to the publishing house in Boca Raton was carried out in order to divert attention from Trenton where the main distributing entity of the contaminated envelopes was located.
The third envelope containing anthrax arrived October 10th at the company Microsoft Licenses Inc. located in Reno, Nevada. The fourth letter was sent to the office of New York Governor George Pataki on October 17.
Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that five envelopes containing anthrax were distributed. In addition to the anthrax, in these letters was the threatening message: “9-11-01. You cannot stop us. We have anthrax. You are dying right now. Are you frightened?” The anthrax attacks went on for over a month.
Throughout the course of the investigation, the FBI turned to the approximately 40,000 member microbiologist community in America for assistance. The first question that should have been answered was - “What are the necessary qualifications of someone capable of filling the envelopes with the powder form of anthrax spores?” It was completely obvious that the task was accomplished by someone without skills in microbiology, so this is not valid. Transferring the powder from one container to the other requires necessary bacteriological conditions - special glazed spaces supplied with influx and extract ventilators. The handling process should be conducted over gas flames, or in extreme cases, an alcohol lamp. Moreover, the handler should be dressed in a special protective suit including a contained breathing mask and gloves. Not to mention that the microbiological process of preparing anthrax spores requires special knowledge and qualifications. It should be noted that lyophilization of spores of pathogenic microbes utilizes a vacuum concentration instrument with a filtering system to protect the environment from the causative agent. A malfunction in the filtering system leads to an emission of the pathogenic spores similar to what occurred on the Sverdlovsky Base of Bacteriological Weapons in 1976 [12].
Creating these conditions in a garage, basement, or residential room, as a few FBI investigators proposed, is impossible. Failure to observe the indicated conditions of working with an extremely virulent strain of anthrax in powder form inevitably leads to spreading the anthrax spores into the surrounding environment and infects the handler(s). Consequently, filling the envelopes with the powder form of anthrax spores can only be accomplished by one who possesses microbiological skills and experience and only in the conditions of a microbiological laboratory.
An example of this type of improper handling of the microbiological pathogens is well-demonstrated in an incident that occurred on March 1, 2002 in a laboratory in Texas. An employee studying samples distributed by terrorists worked without gloves. As a result, the employee found that his hands had transferred to his chin, as he discovered after shaving. The skin form of anthrax that developed was easily treated with antibiotics. However, all of the reports indicated that not one of the 40 workers in this specialized laboratory had been given the anthrax vaccine [13].
The following reports from the investigative committee of the base laboratory stated that the necessary skills for the handling of the anthrax spores were possessed by Iraqi microbiologist Waly Samar (Walied Samarrai), who worked in New York but lived in New Jersey, from where the first contaminated envelopes were sent [14]. He was a citizen of the USA and graduated from Hunter College where he received a doctorate degree in microbiology. It was easy for him to disguise his work under his investigation of non-pathogenic Bacillus subtilis, which is similar to the composition of the causative agent Bacillus anthracis, better known as anthrax. Since the laboratory techniques and technology used for both microorganism spores are very much alike and require similar precautions, his work was easily conducted under routine experimentation. As a highly competent microbiologist, Samar knew what had to be done in order to prevent contamination of laboratory facilities. Apart from filling the envelopes, he was not successful with the lyophilizing process of anthrax, indicating that the powdery material substance used was prepared ahead of time at a different location. Later it was found that some of the anthrax letters were contaminated with Bacillus subtilis spores. This bacteriological analyzes can be considered as evidence that handling with the anthrax letters was carried out in the lab in which Bacillus subtilis was cultivated [10].
How, where, and when did samar obtain this material?
The Iraqi press reported an interesting observation shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The reports discussed possibilities of completing the biological terrorist attacks: they had enough concentration of viruses kept in a small jar to harm thousands.
According to UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel, the idea of spraying biological and chemical contamination by air was accomplished a long time ago by Iranian intelligence services [17]. For a short time before 9/11, the 20th sole surviving hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui was given the task of studying at the College of Aviation Agriculture at Minnesota State University. In the investigation, it was established that Samar turned in the application to work at the college proposing his services in microbiology as a chief development officer of spraying poison and mixing microbes for use in aviation technology. The ability to spread anthrax through the postal system was apparently selected by terrorists later on, as was the case in this event that the goal was to be achieved with a smaller amount of contaminated material than was required for the creation of an airborne aerosol used in the aviation method. Opening a clandestine biotechnological venture for the production of anthrax spores within the borders of the US was too risky a business. It is much easier and more practical to bring a few preprepared flasks of dry anthrax spores from overseas. If the FBI was not even interested in the training of future terrorists in American aviation schools, then the importation of small packages resembling medical supplies was of little or no value.
From my point of view, the report made by Dr. Christos Tsonas from Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is worthy of attention. According to Dr. Tsonas, at the end of June 2001, a pilot with a terrible abscess on his leg came to see him. Dr. Tsonas prescribed this pilot with an antibiotic, which subsequently was discovered in the apartment of the hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi. According to the hypothesis of Dr. Tsonas, the pilot he treated had been infected with the skin form of anthrax. Furthermore, a pharmacist in Del Rey Beach, Florida witnessed the hijackers Mohamad Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi seeking medicine in the pharmacy for a severe skin irritation on their hands [15].
In my opinion, these facts provide evidence that the hijackers had contact with anthrax spores. I ruled out that they pre-packed the anthrax spores into envelopes because they did not have the necessary microbiological conditions, not to mention the qualifications. More than likely someone from overseas delivered the anthrax spores a few months before the planned terrorist attack on September 11. According to European intelligence services, it is possible that it was Atta, who visited Prague in the summer of 2001. European intelligence stated it is possible that Atta received the lyophilized anthrax spores there, sealed in ampoules or packaged in flasks on which the title of a well-known treatment preparation was labeled in order to avoid detection while clearing customs. For example, I know for a fact that many Russian technological manufacturing lines for the preparation of dry bacteriological spores utilize flasks labeled as penicillin.
Having the anthrax spores delivered to his home in Florida, the hijacker naturally decided he was interested in which form the anthrax was and whether or not they were damaged during transport. Evidently the bottles were undamaged, but whoever packaged the bottles did not take sufficient care in packaging the bottles as a small amount of the spores were on the wrapping material. The hijacker unwrapped the parcel without rubber scientific protective gloves and isolated spores came into contact with his hands causing an erythema, from which he was saved with the help of antibiotics. One cannot eliminate the possibility that the other terrorist was present and not wearing rubber scientific protective gloves when the parcel was unwrapped. The terrorist transferred an undetermined amount of anthrax spores from his hands to his leg, causing the anthrax to contaminate his skin. Even if he had opened just one flask, he would have not been successful in avoiding infection through inhalation of the anthrax, resulting in the usual outcome. Again, I am positive that the hijacker did not actually send the envelopes containing anthrax spores. This endeavor could only be accomplished by a qualified microbiologist.
After the flasks containing the anthrax spores were given to Samar, he packaged the powder into the envelopes and placed the empty package in a laboratory biohazard waste bin which was removed daily to be destroyed. All of the operations Samar conducted were skillfully undetected by other laboratory staff.
The next step was to send the envelopes, who wrote the addresses on the envelopes, and who wrote the threatening note on the piece of paper. I hoped that investigators would be able to answer such questions as why certain addresses were selected and who put the letters into the mailbox.
 
The examination of the envelopes was conducted by highly qualified anthrax experts initially pointed to the Ames strain of anthrax microbes [10]. This strain was derived from diseased cow in 1972 in the state of Iowa and has since been disposed of by military microbiologists at Fort Detrick in 1981. This school of thought coincides with the majority of perspectives for the creation of biological weapons, this strain was examined by many different experimental laboratories in the United States and on the Porton-Down military base in England. Investigators determined that uptil the September 11 attacks, the Ames strain of anthrax appeared in at least 20 specialized laboratories in the world. In 1988, Iraqi microbiologists developing biological weapons received a few types of anthrax strains from England, among those being the Ames strain.
In the 1980s despite the UN Convention prohibiting the production of biological weapons, I observed a strange activation of military intelligence services planning the development of biological weapons in Asian countries. While I was working as a researcher at the Gamaleya Scientific Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (http://biistate.net/docs/profiles/gamaleya.pdf), I received an unexpected visit of specialists from North Korea desiring to receive strains of anthrax. Shortly thereafter, specialists from Iran visited the Gamaleya Institute with the same goal [11].
The Russian military microbiologists have the Ames strain of anthrax available. The military scientists continuing to research chemical vaccines for anthrax had developed a vaccine in the 1980s that was effective against the anthrax strain the US was using in certain components of their biological weapons.
As it was reported in the press, the 9/11 Commission and the FBI conducting the investigation looked at nine scientific research institutions that could have been involved in the type of biological characteristics of the anthrax spores found in the envelopes. Experts analyzed the genetic structure of the microbes and also searched for nature of physical and chemical carrier in order to pinpoint the location at which the aerosol was prepared. It was established that the quality of the filler could be easily converted to aerosol using silicon. Investigators proposed that the types of spores used to fill the envelopes could not have been prepared in Iraq due to the fact that silicon is not produced there. Expert opinions of the UN Weapons Committee deduced that Iraq and Iran used the experience of Soviet scientists in developing bacteriological weapons and the type of anthrax used in the 9/11 attacks could have only been achieved in Russia, Iraq, or the U.S. [16].
The local US terrorist version
After a year of investigative work by the 9/11 Commission and the FBI, approximately 231,000 man hours were spent and the following conclusion was reached: the anthrax strains are similar to that of the system of biological defense of the U.S. Moreover, investigators hypothesized that the biological attack was achieved by one individual that did not possess the scientific knowledge, skill, and abilities of microbiology. These investigators believed that the pathogenic material could have been stolen from an American laboratory that studies and analyzes anthrax [17]. This absurd version is obviously the consequence of complete incompetence of the investigators. The 9/11 Commission and the FBI were allowed to develop their own version as a result of American microbiologists’ silence in response to the absurdities associated with this false hypothesis [18].
The first target elected for the search of the source of anthrax used in the 9/11 attacks was the US Army base in Dugway, Utah. In the past, this installation produced an aerosol form of anthrax designed for inhalation over a period of a few years [19]. One of the investigators, Chip Ward, stated that Dugway had an evil reputation among residents living near the base and therefore it was not advised to involve this base in a dirty matter such as a terrorist attack. However, the efforts of FBI agents exposing the administrators and specialists working with anthrax to supplying terrorists with spores were not successful.
This failure did not cause the 9/11 Commission and FBI to wake up. Investigators continued to search for a “local source” that supplied terrorists with anthrax spores. FBI agents interrogated approximately 5,000 people without finding any leads of any possible suspects. Afterwards, the FBI scrapped the possibility of a local amateur terrorist and started to focus attention on scientists instead. Their first victim was the former military professor of virology, Dr. Stephen Hatfill [20]. In January 2007, Attorney General John Ashcroft filed a lawsuit against him. Hatfill’s work was put under intense scrutiny and consequently tarnished his name as a respected scientist. Hatfill courageously defended himself and after many interrogations and testifying on a polygraph, the court did not find sufficient evidence of Hatfill’s participation in the bioterrorist attacks. The US scientific community could breathe easier and voice their feelings to their professional colleague. The last victim of the anthrax letter investigation was Dr. Bruce Ivins who died after suicide [10].
This failure did not cause the 9/11 Commission and FBI to wake up. Investigators continued to search for a “local source” that supplied terrorists with anthrax spores. FBI agents interrogated approximately 5,000 people without finding any leads of any possible suspects. Afterwards, the FBI scrapped the possibility of a local amateur terrorist and started to focus attention on scientists instead. Their first victim was the former military professor of virology, Dr. Stephen Hatfill [20]. In January 2007, Attorney General John Ashcroft filed a lawsuit against him. Hatfill’s work was put under intense scrutiny and consequently tarnished his name as a respected scientist. Hatfill courageously defended himself and after many interrogations and testifying on a polygraph, the court did not find sufficient evidence of Hatfill’s participation in the bioterrorist attacks. The US scientific community could breathe easier and voice their feelings to their professional colleague. The last victim of the anthrax letter investigation was Dr. Bruce Ivins who died after suicide [10].
Six years after the biological attacks, there were still no leads as far as suspects and accomplices. This was not the first incident during which American federal law enforcement failed to take appropriate action in matters of national security. For example, it took the FBI 17 years to arrest the Ted Kaczynski, who sent bombs through the US Postal Service to his victims. Furthermore, this arrest was only possible because the brother of the bomber reported to the police the whereabouts of this criminal.
To establish which of the terrorists acquired anthrax spores, much focus was directed to Northern Arizona University Biology Professor Paul Keim, who specializes in the genomic analysis of anthrax microbe [10]. In his investigation, Keim utilized genomic methods and a database of various pollens from different geographical regions of the planet. Keim also employed these same methods to successfully identify the unique pollen-spores used by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult group after the unsuccessful attempt to complete a terrorist attacks on citizens in Tokyo. At that time, a group of Keim’s microbiologists established that the strain of anthrax used by Aum Shinri Kyo resembled the Stern strain from which the US used a live anthrax vaccine. The production of this vaccine for animals was studied by a Colorado Serum Company located in Denver. However, according to the research data, the production of this particular pollen was traced to the Former Soviet Union (FSU). This was an established fact that bewildered microbiologists conducting the analysis of a spore sample taken from the cult [21].
Naturally, the specialists conducting the analysis were unaware of the history of origin of the live spore anthrax vaccine STI addressed above [11]. According to information from a colleague of mine, the live spore anthrax vaccine (STI) was developed using the Stern strain as basis and was exported from the US in the 1930s. Therefore, it was no surprise that the genetical DNA composition of the strain from the live spore anthrax vaccine was identical to the Soviet STI vaccine. Evidently, the cult members acquired the material from former Soviet specialists who worked with anthrax, ampoules of the strain vaccine spores derived from a virulent culture of anthrax. Supporting this contention, the Japanese criminals regulated cultivation of anthrax spores on their experimental foundation of a Sarin gas factory. Fortunately the combination was unsuccessful, as was revealed shortly after their bioterrorist attack was carried out. Thank God a deadly anthrax culture did not end up in their hands.
Similar methods were utilized by a group of geneticists headed by Professor Keim in conducting research on the Ames strain of anthrax which were distributed by terrorists through the postal system in September and October 2001. Unfortunately, the results of this research were not widely publicized, apparently demonstrating that scientists are advancing the course of political leadership of the US.
 
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