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The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick is under investigation by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command for the possible disappearance of some of its stock of deadly pathogens, but there is no evidence yet of "any criminality" in the case, an Army spokesman said.
The Frederick News-Post reported this morning that since at least February, agents have been trying to discover what happened to pathogens that may have gone missing from 1987 to 2008. The investigation coincides with the suspension of most research at the Army lab in February as authorit
The lab has been under heavy pressure to tighten security since the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others. FBI investigators think the anthrax strain used in the attacks originated at the Army lab, and its prime suspect in the investigation, Bruce E. Ivins, researched anthrax there. Ivins committed suicide last year.
"The number of vials is utterly meaningless," Schmaljohn said. "Three vials missing is no indication of any evildoing. . . . It's almost equivalent to saying you're missing 3 cents out of the national budget. . . . From the scientists' point of view it is inconsequential, but from the regulator's point of view it is an indication of sloppiness, and they are finally going to take rugged action."
A problem accounting for Venezuelan equine encephalitis was what triggered the earlier suspension of most research at the lab. A spot check in January found 20 samples of the virus in a box of vials instead of the 16 that had been listed in the institute's database, Caree Vander Linden, the spokeswoman for the institute, said in February.
A retired support staff employee who worked in the BSL-4 labs received a visit from Fort Mead's CID agents in February. Agents wanted to know if he'd taken anything out of the lab between 1987 and 2008, and how easy it was for others to remove samples.
"I said it was easy enough. It was a lock and key access to the suite of freezers," the retiree said in an interview.
In that time period, thousands could've accessed the freezers of deadly and/or infectious viral samples, he told investigators. Specifically, the man reported, CID asked about samples of VEE, Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, VEE is spread to humans by mosquitoes; symptoms range from mild flu-like illness to brain inflammation, coma and death. Mortality rate is one-third, "making it one of the most deadly mosquito-borne diseases in the United States."
Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, only five such labs existed. But after Sept. 11, the Bush administration -- fearing terrorists next might turn to bio-attacks -- expanded the BSL-4 program, focusing on cures and detection. Now 15 BSL-4 federal, academic and private facilities are located around the country, and another dozen or so are in various stages of planning or construction.
Francis A. Boyle, an international law expert who worked under the first Bush Administration as a bioweapons advisor in the 1980s, has said that he is convinced the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people were perpetrated and covered up by criminal elements of the U.S. government. The motive: to foment a police state by killing off and intimidating opposition to post-9/11 legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the later Military Commissions Act.
"Senators Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
were holding it up because they realized what this would lead to. The
first draft of the PATRIOT Act would have suspended the writ of habeas
corpus [which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment and
guarantees due process of law]. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere,
come these anthrax attacks."
"At the time I myself did not know precisely what was going on, either
with respect to September 11 or the anthrax attacks, but then the New
York Times revealed the technology behind the letter to Senator
Daschle. [The anthrax used was] a trillion spores per gram, [refined
with] special electro-static treatment. This is superweapons-grade
anthrax that even the United States government, in its openly
proclaimed programs, had never developed before. So it was obvious to
me that this was from a U.S. government lab. There is nowhere else you
could have gotten that."
After realizing that the anthrax attacks looked like a domestic job,
Boyle called a high-level official in the FBI who deals with terrorism
and counterterrorism, Marion "Spike" Bowman.
Bowman then informed Boyle that the FBI was working with Fort Detrick
on the matter. Boyle expressed his view that Fort Detrick could be the
main problem. As widely reported in 2002 publications, notably the New
Scientist, the anthrax strain used in the attacks was officially
assessed as "military grade."
"Soon after I informed Bowman of this information, the FBI authorized
the destruction of the Ames cultural anthrax database," the professor
said. The Ames strain turned out to be the same strain as the spores
used in the attacks.
The alleged destruction of the anthrax culture collection at Ames,
Iowa, from which the Fort Detrick lab got its pathogens, was blatant
destruction of evidence. It meant that there was no way of finding out
which strain was sent to whom to develop the larger breed of anthrax
used in the attacks. The trail of genetic evidence would have led
directly back to a secret government biowarfare program.
"Clearly, for the FBI to have authorized this was obstruction of
justice, a federal crime," said Boyle. "That collection should have
been preserved and protected as evidence. That's the DNA, the
fingerprints right there. It later came out, of course, that this was
Ames strain anthrax that was behind the Daschle and Leahy letters."
At that point, recounted Boyle, it became very clear to him that there
was a coverup underway. He later discovered, while reading David Ray
Griffin's book on the 9/11 attacks, The New Pearl Harbor, that Bowman
was the same FBI agent who allegedly sabotaged the FISA warrant for
access to [convicted co-conspirator] Zacharias Moussaoui's computer
prior to 9/11. Moussaoui's computer contained information that could
have helped prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
When the U.S. biological warfare program ended in 1969 VEE virus was one of seven standardized biological weapons it had developed.