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Context of 'December 13, 2001: US Army Confirms It Has Made Weapons-Grade Anthrax, In Possible Violation of International Treaty'

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In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah begin to turn wet anthrax into powder. Supposedly, this is to test how to defend against biological attacks. A spokesperson claims the anthrax produced that year is of a different strain than the Ames strain used in the 2001 anthrax attacks, but will not say if anthrax produced in other years is of the same strain or not. Dugway has had the Ames strain since 1992. In 1999, top bioweapons scientist William Patrick tells a group of US military officers that in the spring of 1998 he taught personnel at Dugway how to turn wet anthrax into powder. He says: “We made about a pound of material in little less than a day. It’s a good product.” This anthrax production will remain secret until the media discovers it in December 2001 (see December 13, 2001). Some will argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others will argue it is not. [New York Times, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, William C. Patrick III, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

After investigators discover in mid-October 2001 that the anthrax used in the anthrax attacks comes from the Ames strain (see October 10-11, 2001), the FBI investigation largely discards theories that al-Qaeda or Iraq was behind the attacks and begins to focus on domestic suspects. Within weeks, FBI investigators draw up lists of thousands of suspects who have access to anthrax or the scientific knowledge to work with it. Much of the initial investigation focuses on the US military’s bioweapons program, and especially the two US Army bioweapons laboratories, USAMRIID (in Maryland) and the Dugway Proving Ground (in Utah) which have heavily used the Ames strain. Mark Smith, a veteran handwriting analyst, studies the anthrax letters and speculates that the suspect has worked for or had close ties to US military intelligence or the CIA. An FBI agent who is also a microbiologist is sent to the Dugway Proving Ground and spends weeks questioning more than 100 employees there. Scientists there are repeatedly asked who they think could have committed the attacks. Several people suggest Steven Hatfill. There is no actual evidence against Hatfill, but he is a larger than life figure with a curious background. The Washington Post will later comment: “Hatfill was not some mild-mannered, white-coated researcher who’d spent his career quietly immersed in scientific minutiae. With his thick black mustache, intense eyes and muscular, stocky build, he looked—and behaved—more like a character in a Hollywood action flick.” He is a serious scientist, but colleagues call him “flamboyant,” “raunchy,” and “abrasive.” He has worked with a number of US agencies, including the CIA, FBI, DIA, and Defense Department, on classified bioweapons projects. He has a mysterious background working and studying in South Africa and Zimbabwe for a number of years. For instance, a South African newspaper will report that he carried a gun into South African medical laboratories and boasted to colleagues that he had trained bodyguards for a white separatist leader. He is one of a core group of about 50 to 100 people that the FBI begins focusing on. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Dugway Proving Ground, Mark Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Dugway Proving Ground.Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, US Department of the Army, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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