The government seems hell-bent in its
effort to limit the suspects in the anthrax mystery to a
domestic loner. First, the FBI's behavioral analysis came
up with the profile of a lone wolf based on its "exacting
handwriting and linguistic analysis" of one letter
that contained 18 words and another that contained 27 words.
It suggested that the writer of these two letters was a
single disgruntled American, not connected to the jihadist
terrorists of Sept. 11 (even though the letter used the
plural pronoun "we" and began with an underlined
The problem is that this approach could
not apply to the attacks for which no letter was found,
such as the one in Florida. More important, the "lone
wolf" theory failed to explain how a single person
could acquire a virulent strain of Ames bacteria and weaponize
it into an aerosol by milling the spore to one to five microns
in diameter and producing billions of spores.
Initially, the FBI theorized that this
strain was widely available, since it had been circulated
to thousands of researchers, but this confused the nonvirulent
Ames strain (which lacked an outer protective shells and
toxic proteins) with the virulent one contained in the letters.
As it turned out, only a small number of repositories --
fewer than 20 -- ever had access to the virulent strain.
The search might have been narrowed down to a single repository
if the FBI had not allowed an Agriculture Department facility
at Iowa State to destroy through incineration the specimens
that constituted the "family tree" of the Ames
strain (which had originally been found in 1932 in Ames,
Next, an analysis at Northern Arizona
University in Flagstaff found that the DNA of the anthrax
used in the attacks was indistinguishable from an Ames strain
sample provided by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute
of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, Md. At this point,
the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer commented that the
"evidence is increasingly looking like" the anthrax-laced
letters came from a domestic source.
This assumption is premature. The virulent
strain of the Ames virus is also found abroad.
David Franz, who headed the biological-research
program at Fort Detrick between 1987 and 1998, said that
when the Army wanted to conduct defensive experiment on
the Ames strain, it had to obtain the "information"
from a British military lab that did experiments with Ames
anthrax in the powdered form. Evidently, the virulent Ames
strain had been sent from the U.S. to Britain, and, after
the U.S. destroyed its stockpiles in the 1970s, samples
had to be obtained from the British facility at Porton Downs,
specifically from the Center for Applied Microbiology and
Research (CAMR). Martin Hugh-Jones, a scientist at Lousiana
State University who received a sample from CAMR in the
1990s, recalls that it was marked "October, 1932."
So the matching sample traces not only to the U.S. but to
The security of the British anthrax bacteria
is complicated by its privatization. In 1993, at the time
it was supplying the virulent Ames strain sample, CAMR was
partly privatized by the British government through a marketing
agreement with Porton Products Ltd. in which Porton sold
all its anthrax vaccine. Porton Products was owned by Speywood
Holdings Ltd., which, in turn, was owned by I&F Holdings
NV, a Netherlands Antilles corporate shell owned by Fuad
El-Hibri, a Lebanese Arab with joint German-U.S. citizenship;
his father, Ibrihim El-Hibri; and possibly other undisclosed
Prior to his taking over this biotech
company, Fuad El-Hibri had worked in the mergers-and-acquisitions
department of Citibank in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, where he
specialized in arranging investments for large Saudi investors.
Saudi Arabia then was interested in obtaining an anthrax
vaccine to counter Saddam Hussein's biological warfare capabilities.
But the U.S. would not provide it.
So when Mr. El-Hibri took over the British
biotech lab, he reorganized its bio-terrorism defense business,
and arranged deliveries of biotech defense products to Saudi
Arabia. Mr. El-Hibri was unavailable for comment, but the
ownership is a matter of record and he has not made a secret
of his involvement in bio-warfare research. Indeed, he testified
before Congress in 1999: "I participated in the marketing
and distribution of substantial quantities of two bio-defense
vaccines -- botulinum Type A and anthrax."
Even more intriguing, Mr. El-Hibri's
interest in anthrax vaccines did not stop with his deal
with CAMR. In 1998, he arranged a leveraged buyout of the
Michigan Biological Products Institute. MBPI, which originally
had been owned by the state of Michigan, held the exclusive
contract for providing the U.S. government with anthrax
vaccine. While its vaccine worked well against the Vollum
strain of anthrax (used by Russia), it was more problematic
against the Ames strain. So it had conducted tests with
the virulent Ames strain on guinea pigs, mice and monkeys
with mixed results. BioPort's spokeperson confirmed that
it had access to the virulent Ames strain for testing on
animals. To take over MBPI, Mr. El-Hibri became an American
citizen, and gave retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a former
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a large block of
stock in Intervac, one of the corporations involved in the
maneuver. The controlling shareholder was the same I&F
Holdings used to take control of the British biotech lab,
CAMR. He then renamed the company BioPort. BioPort, which
controlled America's anthrax vaccine, was apparently of
some interests to scientists in Afghanistan since an environmental
assessment report of its planned laboratory renovations
was turned up in the house of a Pakistani scientist in Kabul.
So far, the offshore availability of
anthrax has been overshadowed by the search for a domestic
lone wolf. Since the lethal bacteria could have been stolen
from either a foreign or domestic lab, weaponized in a stealthed
bio-warfare facility overseas and sent in ziplock bags to
the person mailing the letters, The investigative focus
needs to be widened.