Mailing anthrax, from US with love, again

Posted in Bioterrorism, War On Terror at 1:39 pm by George Smith

The US government bio-defense laboratories produced the best bioterrorist money could buy. That was Bruce Ivins, the anthrax mailer.

Ivins brought on an incredible surge in spending to counter bioterrorism in this country. A huge nationwide infrastructure was built and augmented. I wrote about one of its keystone facilities here.

Billions and billions of dollars spent. Half a billion on the one in the link above, per year, alone.

Post Bruce Ivins, number of bioterrorism incidents: ZERO.

This week, a mistake in the anthrax defense program shows the facilities reach around the world, including government and private sector labs. Not really a big surprise. It’s what taxpayer money built. It’s a big business.

From the Los Angeles Times:

At least 26 people are being treated for potential exposure to deadly anthrax after an Army bio-defense facility in Utah mistakenly sent live samples to private and military laboratories in as many as nine states, including California, and South Korea, officials said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was working with state and federal agencies to investigate how the anthrax samples were sent from the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, a vast facility in southwest Utah where researchers try to build and test defenses against chemical and biological agents, including viruses and bacteria.

The CDC said it had launched its inquiry last weekend after it was contacted by a private commercial lab in Maryland that had received live spores.

This is a very big and embarrassing deal, although the specifics as to why are not really addressed in the LAT piece.

Ivins produced live anthrax spores, dry powder. In that state, anthrax is very dangerous. The spores float and get everywhere.

The US government’s bioterror-defense programs are not, repeat that — not — supposed to be producing live anthrax spore powder. That’s what Bruce Ivins did, something he kept secret during his clandestine work at Fort Detrick.

And you’re not supposed to make spore powder for reasons which now are very obvious.

Wet anthrax, slurry, sort of OK, as a research necessity.

What, precisely, was the state of the mailed samples?

The newspaper only mentions that “spores” are supposed to be “inert,” dead, rendered so by exposure to gamma rays.

Here’s a potential clue. Twenty two of the twenty six being treated are at Osan Air Base in South Korea.

“A joint U.S.-Korean program at Osan aims to boost bio-surveillance capabilities on the Korean Peninsula,” reads the newspaper.

This could mean someone opened a sample tube of dry spore preparation. And when it was discovered it was live, it was assumed everyone in the room, or who had opened it, had potentially been contaminated. Because of the very nature of the stuff.

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