DEE ANN DIVIS is the senior science and technology editor at United Press International where she writes about bioterrorism,
homeland security technology, and science and technology policy. During the 2003-2004 school year, she was a Knight Science
Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before joining UPI, she wrote for Aerospace Daily, was an
editor at Aviation Week’s Web site AviationNow and the Washington Editor for GPS World and Geospatial Solutions
magazines. Prior to becoming a journalist, she ran the Washington Office for one of the early commercial space launch companies,
provided contract support for EPA’s Superfund and the Toxic Release Inventory and spent 12 years analyzing information
from criminal investigations for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Two Labs Confirm Anthrax In The Mail
Two labs confirmed Pentagon anthrax
By Dee Ann Divis
UPI Senior Science & Technology Editor
Published March 21, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Anthrax was confirmed twice in samples collected from a Pentagon mail facility initially closed last week
and then opened after being declared free of the pathogen, United Press International has learned.
The head of the company that was accused of contaminating the samples sent from that facility -- a detached building
on the Pentagon grounds in Arlington, Va. - said his company had never had a false positive test before and the presence of
anthrax was detected independently in the original samples by two government laboratories besides his own.
The Pentagon alarm is distinct from a second alert for anthrax that also occurred March 14 at a mail room in a Defense
Department-leased building in Falls Church, Va. The entire three-building complex was closed for two days before being declared
Robert B. Harris, president and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc. in Richmond, Va., also
said the anthrax found at the Pentagon was the same genetic strain used in the 2001 attacks.
The dispute over the possibility of contamination -- suggested to the media by an anonymous source -- became more
heated as an automated alarm warned of anthrax at yet a third Washington-area mailroom Friday. That third alert, at Bolling
Air Force Base, was triggered by automated sensors -- as was the alert at Falls Church.
The week of anthrax alarms began when the Pentagon mail facility was closed after tests on samples taken there the
week before had been found positive for the presence of anthrax. The initial samples, consisting of swabs of surfaces from
the facility, had been collected March 10, but the results were not received and the facility was not shut down until March
The delay was not the fault of CBI, Harris said, noting CBI had tested more than 2,000 similar samples in the past
two years and reported its results within 24 hours.
"We reported our initial ...findings on (March 11)," Harris told UPI. "Our contracting officer told
us to continue testing for further analysis over the weekend -- and that was done. On Monday ... the 14th we communicated
additional test results to our contracting officer. From CBI's point of view, there was absolutely no delay in reporting the
CBI is a sub-contractor that conducts routine testing. The identity of the prime contractor who received the results
is unclear. Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood told UPI the four-day delay was being investigated.
Harris also took issue with the anonymous suggestion in news reports that his lab had contaminated the original sample
from the Pentagon site.
"It is a fact that we had a presumptive positive test come up," he said. "That presumptive positive
test was confirmed by us and by at least two other labs as being a true positive."
Carlee Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick,
Md., which tested the samples after CBI, confirmed that the follow-up tests on the first sample were positive and that two
labs had done such tests.
"There is a component of the Homeland Security Department that has a laboratory that is located in our building,"
Vander Linden explained. "They have a presence here at Fort Detrick. The samples were basically parted out and there
was analysis done by USAMRIID and by the forensics lab under DHS. I know that the negatives that we got were on the ones that
came directly from the (mail) facility and did not pass through the contractor. The positives that we got were on samples
that had been handled already by the people in Virginia."
Vander Linden also said: "USAMRIID is not saying that, 'Gee, there probably was a contamination event.' I think
some people are surmising that. It certainly has been reported that way. I think that we'll just have to wait and see."
A DHS lab did conduct confirmatory tests, said Terry Bishop, a spokesman for DOD Health Affairs, but he did not elaborate
on the results.
"It is in our mind that this was truly a positive sample," said Harris, adding that his technicians had
done everything possible to minimize contamination and were reviewing their lab and procedures.
"I emphasize," Harris said, "in over 2,000 of these samples and tens of thousands ... of other samples
we have never experienced a false-positive test."
In response to a question from UPI, Harris confirmed CBI also had conducted other tests on the anthrax sample, but
he would not reveal the results.
"There are lots of tests -- biochemical, morphological, genetic," Harris said, "all kinds of laboratory
analyses that can be done to further qualify the type of pathogen we are looking at and those tests have been done."
Harris also said the anthrax in the initial samples was the same strain as the organism used during the first anthrax
attack via U.S. Mail facilities in the fall of 2001. This was not surprising, however, he said, because it is the most common
Questions over the first alarm were still swirling when the third alarm sounded last Friday at Bolling, which is located
along the Anacostia River in Washington. The alert occurred in a mail-handling facility used by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"This morning, the DIA remote-delivery facility was closed due to an initial positive test of incoming mail for
hazardous biological agents," Defense Department spokesman Maj. Paul Swiergosz told UPI last Friday afternoon.
Personnel on the scene were asked to stay, Swiergosz said, and local officials were called. An FBI team conducted
As of late Friday, the follow-up tests at the scene had been negative, said FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman. Additional
tests were planned at a laboratory.
The three alerts - at the Pentagon, in Falls Church and at Bolling -- raise concern about cross-contamination from
a source of anthrax somewhere in the Defense Department mail system. All of the alerts occurred in defense-related mail facilities
and in each case the alerts were specific for anthrax, several federal and local DOD spokesmen confirmed during the week.
The bioweapons sensors were not connected, UPI was told repeatedly by the spokesmen. The sensors in Fairfax and at
Bolling were automatic and did not involve any CBI testing so there was no issue of sample contamination.
UPI also was told by a Defense Department spokeswoman that, in at least one case, the alerts followed the mail flow.
Specifically, the mail from the Pentagon site could have moved to the Falls Church location.
The Pentagon is working to gather more than 8,000 pieces of mail that moved through its detached facility between
March 10 and March 14.
ONE PERSON MAY BE BEHIND ANTHRAX ATTACKS
12 May 2003
Source: United Press International, May 11, 2003
One person may be behind anthrax attacks
By Dee Ann Divis and Nicholas M. Horrock, Washington Politics & Policy Desk
WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- One person, operating alone, could have placed anthrax in envelopes through tiny slits by
using a hypodermic needle and a "glove box" or "glove bag" to protect himself or herself from contamination,
United Press International has been told by a source knowledgeable of the case.
Five people died in the fall of 2001 after anthrax-laden letters were mailed to people in New York, Florida and Washington.
One letter, mailed but not delivered to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was recovered unopened with anthrax still in it.
This spring, after a grueling 18-month investigation, the source told UPI that it is possible that one person with basic
scientific knowledge and access to Ames strain anthrax could have carried out the anthrax attack.
"One person could absolutely do it," said the source who has insight into what the investigation has uncovered.
There has been significant debate over whether one person could have carried the attack. One of the key issues is that
the anthrax found in the letters to Congress was "weaponized" -- dried and physically ground or "milled"
into smaller pieces to make it linger in the air and more likely to be deeply inhaled and more deadly. Experts disagree over
how complicated it would be to do that and the extent of manpower and equipment necessary to pull it off.
"There are several ways to dry it," explained the source. "One of the ways would be a lyophilizer -- it's
piece of equipment that takes bacteria and dries it. It's a freeze-drier basically. (The anthrax) becomes a dry spore. At
that point you have to contain it."
The container, the source suggested, would be a glove box. These are large sealed boxes that the researcher can see into.
A scientist reaches into the box from the outside through holes that have gloves attached to them. The gloves extend into
the box so the seal is never broken. There are also "glove bags" that operate in a similar way but are smaller and
Milling could be done with a commercially available machine called a miller or even equipment as simple as a mortar and
"You would have to open up the containers inside the glove box and grind the spores with the mortar and pestle or
some type of miller -- at that point it's going to float. It's going to go in the air," the source said. "It's going
to act like gas. So you have to be able to contain it inside the glove box, collect it and put it inside the envelopes."
The powder could have been placed in the envelopes using a hypodermic needle said the source. Though the envelopes did
not have holes from a needle this source said the anthrax could have been inserted through slits in the envelope. One envelope
had a slit in it, the source said.
The Washington Post quoted two sources in its Sunday editions as saying that FBI searches had recovered a "clear
box that could accommodate gloves to protect the user as he worked. Also recovered were vials wrapped in plastic."
The FBI has been conducting searches for traces of anthrax and pieces of equipment for months. Last Dec. 12, it began
a search of several ponds in the Frederick, Md., watershed, 40 miles north of Washington, that lasted into January. The box
was reportedly found in the ponds.
The paper said that "entering the water to manipulate virulent anthrax bacteria would provide some degree of protection
from the finely ground spores, which disperse through the air and can live for decades. But expert opinions vary on whether
spores from the containment equipment could later be in a natural body of water."
The paper said that the FBI has informed the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the City of Frederick that it
will drain the pond on June 1, which would allow it to sift silt at the bottom.
The pond is in the Catoctin Mountains, not far from Frederick and Fort Detrick, a U.S. Army facility that has conducted
experiments with Ames strain anthrax.
The site is also not far from the onetime apartment of Steven Hatfill, a medical doctor and former Army scientist at Fort
Detrick. Attorney General John Ashcroft identified Hatfill as a "person of interest" to the FBI this case.
Hatfill has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks and many in the legal community said the FBI's
repeating of his name without legal charges or any evidence is a violation of his rights.
In an interview with UPI last year, he said the bureau centered on him because he met the "profile" of the perpetrator
that the bureau constructed. He said he had only been in the woods areas around Catoctin and Gambrill in working with young
Over the months, the bureau has searched Hatfill's apartment, his girlfriend's apartment and storage areas belonging to
his parents without finding any trace of anthrax.
The investigation has been difficult for the FBI. Very early in the case it issued a profile of the type of person it
thought could carry out this crime. It described a disgruntled, middle-aged white man with scientific training and experience
working in government research labs. But legal critics argue that the description could fit dozens of people at Fort Detrick
and other Army facilities or former bio-terrorism experts.
Ask why the case has taken so long, one source told UPI: "Because they have to build a good strong case in court.
"A lot of the case is circumstantial so -- why you wait is to put together a case with the attorney's office. It
is the U.S. Attorney's Office that makes the decision to either indict the case or not indict it."
Pat Clawson, a spokesman for Hatfill told UPI the FBI was wrong to bring up Hatfill's name in connection with the case
at this point.
"The truth of the matter is that Steve Hatfill had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks. ... If the FBI had any
evidence they should charge him. They should charge him or clear him. To destroy his life and career with a pattern of leaks
and innuendo is really immoral and un-American."
Anthrax alert at Bolling Air Force Base
By Dee Ann Divis (UPI)
Senior Science & Technology Editor
WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 18 (UPI) -- An anthrax sensor -- the third in the Washington, D.C., area this week -- went off Friday
afternoon in a remote mail-handling facility of the Defense Intelligence Agency located at Bolling Air Force Base southeast
of the U.S. Capitol.
"This morning the DIA remote delivery facility was closed due to an initial positive test of incoming mail for hazardous
biological agents," Defense Department spokesman Major Paul Swiergosz told United Press International.
Personnel on the scene were asked to stay, Swiergosz said, and local officials were called.
Friday's alarm follows two similar alerts, one at a remote mail delivery facility on the Pentagon grounds and another
in the mail room of a Defense Department complex of leased offices in Falls Church, Va. In all cases the alerts were specific
for anthrax, spokesmen from several federal agencies said.
Tests following the first two alerts -- and tests after the current alarm at DIA -- have so far failed to find further
signs of anthrax spokesmen assured UPI.
"The (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has gone out there, as have local fire officials," said FBI spokeswoman
Five follow-up tests done on the scene at Bolling so far have proven negative, Weierman told UPI. Additional tests of
samples from the mail room will be done at a laboratory.
"The (FBI) Washington field (Office) will take whatever samples of the filter, or of the machine that made the detection,
to Bethesda" Weierman said, adding that officials think it will be a "99 percent chance that it's negative."
Officials are confident enough that nothing will be found they have already decided to re-open the mail stop.
"The (Remote Delivery Facility) will return to normal operation on Monday," the Defense Department said in statement.
Any mail received by DIA personnel today had passed through the office prior to the alert, Swiergosz said.
Samples Test Positive for Anthrax
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Fox News Channel
WASHINGTON — Preliminary information indicates that some of the cultures coming back of samples taken from Washington,
D.C., mail facilities are testing positive for anthrax, a senior health official told FOX News on Tuesday.
The tests follow the discovery of the potentially deadly bacteria last Thursday by sensors at two military mail facilities
in the Washington area. The mail had been irradiated before it reached those destinations, rendering any anthrax inert, defense
officials told FOX News. The substance was discovered in a filter on the mail-scanning device.
The V Street post office in Washington also was closed as a precaution on Tuesday since officials said the mail forwarded
to the Pentagon and another nearby Defense Department mailroom may have come from that post office. Environmental crews are
determining whether the place was contaminated by anthrax.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams offered the 200 workers from that post office a three-day course of the antibiotic Cipro.
The city's chief medical officer said no cases of the illness have been reported at local hospitals, but called distribution
of the antibiotics the "proper first step."
"The postal service is taking all precautions by distributing prophylactic antibiotics and has asked us to help in
the distribution today. We are offering prophylactic medicine in the form of antibiotics here at D.C. General (hospital) for
all workers from the V Street postal service facility," Mayor Anthony Williams said.
Also on Tuesday, an Internal Revenue Service building was scoured after a letter containing a powdery substance was found.
IRS officials said in a statement that "initial tests were negative for chemical or biological substances." Later,
sources suggested the substance was rat poison.
Asked what the chances are of a false positive in the case of the tested culture, the source told FOX News that the likelihood
is "low." Field tests often can come back as a false positive, but the secondary tests appear to confirm the DNA
test taken at the scene.
Anthrax can be used as a biological weapon, but officials did not say whether the substance found demonstrated a terror
The health official said the test demonstrates that the D.C. Health Department was clearly justified in taking the precautionary
measures it did in the morning.
President Bush was being regularly updated of the situation as testing continued on Tuesday, White House press secretary
Scott McClellan said.
Follow-up tests were being conducted at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (search) at Fort Dietrich,
Md., officials said. They would take two to three days to complete. The appearance of the bacteria made it the target of a
criminal investigation by the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local law enforcement.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said mail at both facilities was irradiated before arriving at either one.
The radiation treatment would kill any anthrax bacteria, but sensors would still be able to detect it.
About 175 people work at the Pentagon's mail facility, and another 100 may have been in contact with deliveries for the
Pentagon, officials said.
Medical personnel took cultures from anyone who may have had contact with those deliveries, and those people were also
offered a three-day course of antibiotics and told to watch for the signs of anthrax exposure: fever, sweats and chills.
General operations at the Pentagon appeared unaffected.
Anthrax can be spread through the air or by skin contact. Officials noted that sometimes anthrax sensors can give false-positive
Several cases involving letters laced with killer substances remain unsolved.
In October 2001, someone sent anthrax in letters through the mail to media and government offices in Washington, Florida
and elsewhere, raising fears of bioterrorism. Five people were killed and 17 more sickened.
In October 2003, two letters containing the poison ricin, sent to the Transportation Department and White House, were
intercepted before they reached their destinations. The letters objected to new rules for long-haul truckers.
Former government bioterror expert Stephen Hatfill was under surveillance for months following the attacks and was described
by the Justice Department as a "person of interest." He sued former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government
officials for unspecified monetary damages, saying his reputation was ruined.
No one has ever been charged with the crimes.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge and Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.