- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

When the current spate of anthrax attacks began in Florida, it appeared to be an isolated incident and not of great concern. But the New York and Washington attacks raise the stakes considerably. It is now clear that the attacks on Sen. Daschle's office and on Tom Brokaw of NBC are the work of experts. The "weaponized" version of anthrax used is not something that can be produced in some kook's basement lab. It's very concentrated, designed to infect the greatest number of people in the most deadly way. Two of the most important questions to be answered are who made it, and where did they do it?

These questions are now consuming the energies of the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control, and several intelligence organizations. A 1995 Senate committee report said that at least 17 countries including such paragons of virtue as Libya, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and China all have biological weapons. Any one of them could be the source of the anthrax that is now closing Congress, driving television broadcasters out of their studios, and making us look at our friendly local mail man as a neighborhood Typhoid Mary. There will be many tests including DNA identification on the anthrax spores in the Daschle and Brokaw letters, as well as the anthrax used in the other attacks. These tests may show that the anthrax comes from one or more known sources. It may have been stolen from a source here in the United States. But if it wasn't, the tests won't be enough. What we need is access to people and data that may lead us to the source of these spores in Iraq, Libya or elsewhere.

That help may not be far away. A unique source of information will soon be sitting with President Bush in Shanghai. Mr. Bush's mini-summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin presents an opportunity to get significant help in identifying the source of the anthrax now being used as a weapon. Mr. Putin presides over the nation that first produced an effective anthrax weapon.

The 1972 Biological Weapons Treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and the United States, restricted biowar research to defenses against biological attack. But the Soviets surprise, surprise established an agency called "Biopreparat" that had the mission of developing biological weapons. Developing biological weapons was not a new idea for the Soviets. In World War II, they apparently used tularemia which causes an often-fatal fever as a weapon against German troops in the battle for Stalingrad. But Biopreparat was much more than the crude application of a biological threat. It was a well-funded and well-equipped effort to "weaponize" killer diseases like anthrax. And they succeeded.

In 1979, a Biopreparat facility near Sverdlovsk accidentaly vented anthrax to the atmosphere, killing more than 100 people. In the years following the accident, Biopreparat microbiologists went on to perfect the anthrax weapon. We know a lot about Biopreparat because one of its chief scientists defected to the United States a decade ago, and has been working on defenses to biowar attacks ever since. When the Soviet Union dissolved, many of the other people who worked for Biopreparat, and much of what they had done, simply faded from sight. What they left behind is known only to the Russian government and the intelligence agencies that have penetrated it.

Mr. Putin should be asked to help out in two very important areas. First, we should be given access to all of the data regarding the anthrax that was developed by Biopreparat. We should be able to obtain DNA samples and other data which will tell us conclusively if the anthrax being thrown at us is a strain developed there. In addition, Biopreparat may have shared their germ weapons or their germ weapon experts with other nations, and Russia should disclose all of this information to us. That way, even later generations of the germs may be traceable to a likely source, and we could discover if the Biopreparat experts became teachers in the terrorist schools.

The most likely source seems to be Iraq. When the U.N. inspectors were driven out of Iraq in 1998, Saddam Hussein's regime was doing its best to conceal what it already had done in producing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Now, three years later, it is quite possible that the al Queda terrorists or some other terrorist organization got the weaponized anthrax from Iraq and is using it here to attack us. Mr. Bush should push Mr. Putin hard to obtain his cooperation in this investigation. If Russia fails to cooperate, it will smear itself with the terrorist dirt. With or without Russian help, if we can determine that any nation is the source of these anthrax attacks, that nation should expect, and receive, the treatment we are now giving Afghanistan.

Jed Babbin is former undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.


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