- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

U.S. officials and biological weapons experts said yesterday that while foreign governments may not necessarily be behind the current anthrax offensive against the United States, help from such quarters to initiators of the attacks cannot be ruled out.
Although at least 13 countries are believed to have active biological warfare programs, Iraq is No. 1 in the list of potential state sponsors of bioterrorism, experts said.
North Korea is another theoretical, though much less likely, possibility, they said.
"If a state was involved, Iraq is clearly on top of the list," said Michael L. Moodie, president of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute. "North Korea is thought to have worked on anthrax and one can argue that it's using the situation, but it's a much less likely option than Iraq."
Mr. Moodie said state involvement may not be limited to a government's "policy decision," and the hazardous materials might have been acquired "from a poorly secured stock."
Russia, which has one of the world's largest bioweapons program, has been of serious concern to Washington over the past decade because of the great number of scientists potentially of interest to rogue states and terrorist groups.
A State Department official warned that it's "premature to start speculating" who caused the anthrax scares nationwide, but "whoever it is, they must have quite sophisticated capabilities."
Anthrax scares spread to dozens of countries around the world yesterday, though no cases of human contamination were confirmed outside the United States.
The Bush administration has not excluded the possibility of a link between the anthrax scares and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Mr. Moodie said bin Laden "has articulated a rationale" for using biological weapons and al Qaeda apparently has "the necessary set of skills, resources and organizational capability" to acquire them.
The administration has been careful not to blame Iraq for collaborating with bin Laden without clear evidence. Reports have emerged, however, that Mohamed Atta, one of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague.
Washington knows more about Baghdad's germs program than anyone else's because of a U.N. special commission that worked on disarming Iraq until President Saddam Hussein expelled the inspectors in 1998.
American and other Western companies exported "pathogens and production equipment" to Iraq in the 1980s for "legitimate peaceful scientific research," said Elisa Harris, director of nonproliferation on former President Bill Clinton's National Security Council. Those initially small quantities were eventually stockpiled by Saddam and used to produce weapons.
In testimony before the Senate Arms Services Committee in June, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at least 13 countries have biological weapons programs.
The United States has spent about $20 million since 1994 trying to help more than 2,000 scientists and 30 institutes in the former Soviet Union to use their deadly skills for health and other peaceful research.
A leak from a secret unit producing germ warfare materials caused an anthrax outbreak in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk in 1979, which killed 69 persons.
Back in 1942, the British government dropped an anthrax bomb on the remote Scottish Gruinard Island for research purposes, since it was believed that Hitler was developing biological weapons. All animals on the island died.
More recently, the Canadian province Alberta endured an anthrax outbreak among cattle two years ago.

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