Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Tracking anthrax

I'm a little late posting this, but it's worth a broad audience. Scott Shane is the only journalist out there who's seriously covering the anthrax terrorist case:
Additive use could shift theory in anthrax case:
FBI's interest in Hatfill seems to have dropped off

Adding fuel to a debate that has simmered among scientists since the 2001 anthrax attacks, an article published today in Science magazine says that the deadly spores mailed to two U.S. senators contained sophisticated additives to make the powder float more freely in the air.

If confirmed, such a technical innovation might be an important clue in the seemingly stalled FBI investigation, narrowing the field of potential suspects to people with access to such additives and expertise in using them.

It would point away from an alternative possibility: that a person with modest scientific skills working alone in a home lab could have made the powder, which killed five people and sickened at least 17 others in October and November 2001.

The latter possibility appears to have been the leading theory guiding FBI agents who over the past 18 months have sunk huge amounts of manpower into investigating former Army biowarfare expert Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.

This news is highly significant, well beyond the Hatfill matter, since the question of additives in the highly sophisticated anthrax that was released had remained murky for some time. It means the case is narrowing even further -- and the FBI in reality had a pretty narrow frame of suspects anyway.

Frankly, I have always considered the chief suspects in the Ayaad Assaad matter to be among the most significant, partly because the MOs matched so closely, along with the apparent motives. More to the point, they remain potential suspects, because at the government lab where they worked (and from which they potentially obtained the anthrax), they had access to samples produced by these sophisticated additive techniques.

In any event, it's heartening to know that, according to Shane, the anthrax case is still on the FBI's front burner. The media may be clueless, but as long as real progress is being made by investigators, the sooner we can get this killer behind bars where he belongs.

P.S. Be sure to review Warbaby's summation of the anthrax case's relevance at World In Conflict.

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