- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

The FBI began an extensive criminal investigation yesterday to determine the source of the deadly anthrax bacteria that killed one Florida man and were found in two of his co-workers.
The probe, confirmed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, has focused on the Boca Raton, Fla., offices of American Media Inc. which publishes several supermarket tabloids and is aimed at determining how, where and why the bacteria were introduced into the building and by whom.
Law enforcement authorities said the inquiry has spread nationwide, including a research laboratory in Iowa where FBI agents are trying to find out if the anthrax bacteria found in Florida are the same distributed by the laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which isolated the strain in the early 1950s.
The form of anthrax, called the Ames strain, is a common type distributed to research centers nationwide. State and federal agencies yesterday denied the bacteria were stolen from the Ames facility and the FBI said in a statement there was "no information concerning any link to Iowa."
But Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced that state police and National Guard troops will be stationed at the "location or locations" in Iowa where anthrax is stored or studied and will be there "for the foreseeable future." His spokesman, Joe Shannahan, would not say how many locations in the largely agricultural state conduct anthrax research.
Investigators have begun a system of genetic fingerprinting to determine the specific strain of anthrax found in Florida and its source. Those tests are not yet complete.
Anthrax is a bacterial disease spread by spores and generally confined to sheep, cattle, horses, goats and pigs. Humans can catch the disease, considered a potential agent in biological warfare, but cannot spread it among themselves. Its spores can be stored in dry form indefinitely, then released into the air through detonation or spray.
In Florida, FBI agents in white "moon suits" and gas masks, working with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have spent several days inside the sealed-off American Media offices looking for evidence of how the bacteria got into the complex.
More than 700 employees, along with several dozen visitors, have been tested for exposure to the anthrax bacteria, although only three positive tests have been confirmed. Robert Stevens, a 63-year-old photo editor, died last Friday.
Testing positive for the bacteria were Ernesto Blanco, 73, a mailroom employee, and Stephanie Dailey, 35, also a mailroom employee. Neither person has contracted the disease, and Miss Dailey returned to work yesterday.
Mr. Ashcroft told reporters little evidence or information so far had been uncovered.
"We are not now prepared to announce and don't know the source," he said. "We are having an investigation that's very thorough and doing everything we can to identify what would be the way in which the anthrax bacteria got there and trying, of course, to make sure that we understand the extent to which it was present in the building."
Meanwhile, fears of terrorism are fueling false alarms about hazardous materials and suspicious correspondence and itchiness throughout the country:
Montgomery County fire officials said a leaking package found at a Shady Grove post office yesterday morning was not hazardous. Firefighters said they received a call saying a found package was leaking an unknown substance and a man who handled it had received burns to his hands.
At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Pier D was evacuated and closed for more than an hour yesterday morning after guards at a security checkpoint became suspicious of an object in a passenger's bag. The object turned out to be a portable water-filtration system.
In Chesapeake, Va., a 16-year-old boy confessed to a hoax in which an envelope with a white powder was found in a hallway at Indian River High School on Tuesday morning. Four persons were quarantined and decontaminated before officials analyzed the powder, which turned out to be flour.
A Delta Airlines 767 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport was evacuated after a black substance was found on the floor of a rear cargo compartment Wednesday night. The substance was taken by helicopter to Columbus, Ohio, to be analyzed.
In Woodlawn, Ohio, police and hazardous materials crews responded to a report of a suspicious envelope at an apartment complex. Firefighters later determined that it was harmless.
Earlier Wednesday, a bomb scare in a garage shut down a block in downtown Cincinnati for about an hour. The fire department's bomb squad responded after a security guard noticed a box with a flashing light and toggle switch on the front seat of a car. The box was later determined to be a homemade car alarm constructed by the car's owner.
A building on the California State University-Sacramento campus was evacuated after a construction worker found an unidentified powdery white substance enclosed in a piece of paper on the ground.
About 200 persons were asked to leave the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul after a suspicious briefcase was left there, causing the downtown building to close. Police found that the case held only a hat and some papers.
Vaishali Honawar and Matthew Cella contributed to this report.


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