- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

It's odd: While Osama bin Laden gleefully claimed credit for the September 11 attacks, neither he nor his videotaped associates even mentioned the subsequent mailings of anthrax-laden letters. No one else has claimed responsibility for the latter attacks. While speculation on the sender continues, it appears that the Ames strain of anthrax used in these letters came from the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md.

As reported by Rick Weiss and Susan Schmidt of The Washington Post, the genetic fingerprints of the anthrax spores mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy are identical to those used by only five laboratories, all of which received their strains of anthrax from USAMRIID. Taken at face value, this could suggest to conspiracy theorists that either the Army or individuals connected to it had something to do with the attacks.

While it's a laughable proposition, others like it (such as aliens being sighted around Area 54) have gained a certain credence, so it is important to set the record straight at the outset. The origin of the anthrax strain says virtually nothing about the most critical question in the investigation: Who used it as a weapon? While finding the origin may eliminate a few suspects, it will not identify the terrorist who sent the anthrax-contaminated letters.

USAMRIID spokesman Chuck Dasey agreed, telling reporters, "I'm not sure it [the finding] tells us anything about who the perpetrator is." After all, the U.S. Army has maintained its stocks of the Ames strain of anthrax since 1980, so there could well be a large number of individuals who might have taken it. Moreover, Mr. Dasey pointed out that USAMRIID procured its strain of anthrax from the Department of Agriculture, which only adds to the already-long list of potential thieves.

What is clear is that a turf fight should be avoided. Since no agency wants to be blamed for having released what became a weapon of bioterror, some individuals within may attempt to hinder the FBI's investigation to conceal their inadvertent (or deliberate) culpability in the matter. However, too much is at stake for either bureaucratic stonewalling or conspiracy theorizing.

The sooner the perpetrator(s) of the anthrax attack are found and brought to justice, the safer all Americans will be. To that end, the Army, the CIA and all other agencies and departments should cooperate fully with the FBI's investigation wherever it leads.

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