- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

Since the first anthrax incident was reported on Oct. 5, top FBI agents and world-class epidemiologists have been scouring contaminated sites, questioning suspects and tracking clues.

But there is still no evidence they are closer to discovering the anthrax's origin than they were 22 days ago.

Yesterday, as Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge conceded authorities may never learn who is responsible for the ongoing anthrax scare, security experts said the lack of new information from authorities leaves only speculation and a nervous public.

"The administration has made an error in sugar coating the issue so as not to raise panic," said Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the CATO Institute "The confused and uncoordinated initial response has made me a little bit nervous as to what would happen if we had a mass attack.

"And the only thing stopping a mass attack is the competence and sophistication of the terrorists which clearly is increasing," he said.

While investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were discovering anthrax spores in an air filter at the Supreme Court's mail-handling facility yesterday, Mr. Ridge suggested the only way the government may ever identify the origins of the anthrax "is if we catch the culprit or culprits responsible for contaminating our mail."

"As we continue to conduct more and more tests and learn more and more about the anthrax and how it has been handled or processed, we may be able to identify the source. But I say just maybe. We may not be able to do that," Mr. Ridge told morning television viewers.

Mr. Eland and others point out that in the absence of informed observations from officials, speculation rules. For instance, security specialists reason that:

•The anthrax discoveries at widely disparate sites make it unlikely that the germs all came from the one contaminated letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. It is, therefore, probable there are other letters in the postal system.

If the germs did emanate from that one letter, the attackers have developed a weapon of remarkable and unprecedented potency and flexibility.

If the germs are coming from a batch of letters still circulating in the postal system, people in entire neighborhoods in the District and areas nearby could soon be taking antibiotics.

•The producer of the deadly germs is quite knowledgeable and highly skilled. Defense Department documents state that the desired size of anthrax for use as a weapon is 5 microns small enough to be readily inhaled.

The anthrax in the Daschle letter was 1 to 2 microns, meaning it is even easier to disperse and inhale than the norm.

•The anthrax was either manufactured from scratch or purchased. If purchased, it must have come either from Iraq, the former Soviet Union, or the United States, the only nations known to have anthrax stocks and the technology to chemically treat and mill the pathogen into a weapon.

•The United States is the most likely source of the anthrax because it would be simpler to get the bacterium here than import it.

•The attacker is not a disgruntled loner lashing out at society. He, or they, have money, may have worked in a biological weapons program and is, or are, waging an unprecedented campaign if it is indeed a campaign.

Mr. Eland said terrorists typically don't conduct sequential campaigns, thus making it difficult to figure out what they are doing.

"Normally they go for maximum shock and impact," he said.

Even if such speculation is true, said Michael O'Hanlan, the Brookings Institution's homeland defense specialist, the current attack is "small and not lethal compared to what might be expected."

He added: "A person with a pistol could have killed more victims. And we are going to benefit from what we're learning about anthrax. This will help us defend against a possible wider attack."

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