If you wanted to understand the anthrax story, the Dec. 4 issue of C&EN has a pretty comprehensive rundown. It's amazing how much BS the press has printed.
The bare facts are these: On Oct. 15, 2001, an aide to Majority Leader Tom Daschle opened a letter. Tan powder consisting of anthrax spores burst out of the envelope and spread through the Hart Office building. On Nov. 16, 2001, an unopened letter with anthrax spores was found in the offices of Senator Pat Leahy.
Leahy is the guy currently stripping the hide off of the posterior of Alberto Gonzales.
The media quoted experts saying that the anthrax had been "weaponized"-- coated with silica or some other substance to make it disperse. The sources for this misinformation were Tom Ridge and Maj. Gen. John S. Parker. Armed Forces Pathology scientist Florabell G. Mullick did find elemental silicon, but that might have been native to the coating of the spore. Just a maybe, understand. Matthew S. Meselson of Harvard University said the spores were exceptionally pure, but had not been milled. William C. Patrick III, an Army germ man, said that such purity was achievable by repeated washing of the spores. Meselson thinks triboelectricity could have caused the spore dispersion.
Media said that only a few people could have manufactured this material, and that they would have had to have access to sophisticated equipment. This was wrong.
The material was, according to its DNA sequence
, from the mis-named Ames strain. The Ames strain was derived from a Texas cow that died in 1980. Its bugs were cultured by Texas A&M's VetMed Diagnostic Lab, and shipped it to USAMRIID. Richard H. Ebright of Rutgers says that the Ames strain was not widely distributed, that only 12-20 labs had access to it and that all of these were "US and allied biodefense" labs.
Of course, if A&M did what most labs did, they probably kept a sample and shared it around with their buddies. Same with the other 12-20 labs. Just sayin'.
NBC Nightly News reported that the water used to make the spores came from the northeastern US. I guess this is based on the isotope ratio of the oxygen. But this could be meaningless, since one can buy media and water. At any rate, Ebright says that northeastern US + Ames strain limits the suspect labs to USAMRIID, U. Scranton, and maybe Battelle Columbus.
FBI scientist Douglas Beecher recently published a paper on the methodology used to analyze the material in Applied & Environmental Microbiology. He says-- without explanation-- the anthrax was not weaponized.
The purity of the material is the one thing pointing to high technical skills by the criminal.
The FBI has failed dismally in identifying a suspect and, except for Beecher, has clammed up.
This is not so complicated that the newspapers couldn't have told us. Why didn't they?