- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

The White House yesterday confirmed that the anthrax released on Capitol Hill last week is an especially lethal type.

But the nation's top anti-terrorism official challenged press accounts that the deadly germs must have come from labs in either the former Soviet Union, Iraq or the United States.

At a White House briefing, Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge also discounted published reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others involved in investigating the anthrax outbreak and treating the victims were failing to share information.

Mr. Ridge also announced that postal officials will make random, environmental tests of major postal facilities across the nation "strictly [as] a precautionary measure." He said, "There is no indication of any new exposure at this time at these sites."

Regarding the Capitol Hill anthrax attack that has contaminated post offices, killed postal workers and infected others, Mr. Ridge said: "I don't think I've seen any preliminary tests that drew any conclusions as to where [the anthrax] could or could not have been produced."

He thus disputed accounts published yesterday that claimed only laboratories in three countries could produce anthrax of such high quality and potency. But he confirmed news accounts contending Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, was wrong to characterize the anthrax found in the Senate office building as a common "garden variety."

Mr. Ridge said that the anthrax spores in the letter mailed to the office of Sen. Thomas Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, were "highly concentrated pure smaller [and] more dangerous because they can be more easily absorbed in a person's respiratory system."

All the anthrax released in Florida, New York, Capitol Hill and various postal facilities has been identified as coming from "the Ames strain."

The strain originated in 1980 and was shipped from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases the same year. Researchers named the organism the Ames Strain and provided it to researchers in various U.S. labs and made it available to labs around the world. Mr. Ridge said the anthrax had not been genetically altered, which might have made it more difficult to treat.

The Ames anthrax in the letter sent to the New York Post was less finely milled than that sent to Mr. Daschle. Maj. Gen. John Parker described the Post's batch as "clumpy and rugged" whereas "the Daschle sample was fine and floaty" and designed to be easily inhaled.

Gen. Parker commands the Army Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md. He and Deputy Surgeon General Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu were at Mr. Ridge's side during the briefing.

Mr. Ridge patiently and repeatedly put off questions regarding who might have produced the anthrax.

"I'm not prepared to tell you today the range of potential actors who could have created as pure, and as concentrated and as respirable an anthrax as that we are working on and investigating now," he said. "I don't know whether it's a large range or a narrow range."

Mr. Ridge discounted reports of tensions between the FBI, CDC and other federal agencies over sharing information.

"There has been collaboration and coordination, and every day it continues to accelerate as the circumstances of the threat bring people closer together," he said. "Everybody's intensely working on this issue. There has been extraordinary collaboration. They share information, I assure you."

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