Was the 2001 Anthrax "Weaponized" Or Not?
August 09, 2008, 07:47 PM
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As Testing99 has commented, the idea that a lone mad scientist could have pulled off the 2001 anthrax attacks is, in one way, much scarier than the idea that it was a conspiracy using special weaponized anthrax. If Ivins, whose anthrax specialty was defense, not offense, could have done it all by himself, then anthrax terrorism isn't that hard to do. Not easy—Ivins had 20 years experience at the bioweapons lab—but not dauntingly hard, either.

That would be bad news.

We were frequently told in 2001 that the terrorist's anthrax had been weaponized using sophisticated techniques to make it especially dangerous, but, did that turn out to be true?

Greg Cochran emails:

I'm pretty sure that the FBI doesn't think there was any super-special 'weaponization' at all. From Wiki:

" The August 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology contained an article written by Dr. Douglas Beecher of the FBI labs in Quantico, VA.[30] The article, titled "Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis to Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis spores ," states "Individuals familiar with the compositions of the powders in the letters have indicated that they were comprised simply of spores purified to different extents." The article also specifically criticizes "a widely circulated misconception" "that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production." The harm done by this misconception is described this way: "This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone. The persistent credence given to this impression fosters erroneous preconceptions, which may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally detract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations." However, after this article had appeared the editor of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, L. Nicholas Ornston, stated that he was uncomfortable with Beecher's statement in the article since it had no evidence to back it up and contained no citation. "
I've never seen any evidence of any coating, either, just a lot of people say that there must have been some. Finding silicon with a mass spectrometer doesn't mean a there was any coating. This discussion is complicated by a natural reluctance to talk about the exact methods of preparing weapons-grade anthrax. I suspect that one point they'd really like to skip over would be that its fairly easy.

More on this from the Washington Post, 2006:

" The FBI would not allow Beecher to be interviewed about his article. But other scientists familiar with the forensic investigation echoed his description. Whoever made the powder produced a deadly project of exceptional purity and quality — up to a trillion spores per gram — but used none of the tricks known to military bioweapons scientists to increase the lethality of the product. Officials stressed that the terrorist would have had to have considerable skills in microbiology and access to equipment.

"It wasn't weaponized. It was just nicely cleaned up," said one knowledgeable scientist who spoke on the condition he not be identified by name because the investigation is continuing. "Whoever did it was proud of their biology. They grew the spores, spun them down, cleaned up the debris. But there were no additives."

Like I said. This simplifies the situation considerably.