- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Federal investigators have subpoenaed samples of anthrax stored at the nation's research laboratories to compare with traces of the bacteria found in letters sent in the fall that killed five persons.
The subpoenas, sent Monday by fax to a dozen research labs nationwide, demanded that small samples of anthrax, specifically the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis, be returned in test tubes or "isolates" from each of the research labs' stock.
The FBI, which has pursued thousands of leads and interviewed hundreds of people in its five-month anthrax investigation, hopes to narrow the source of the deadly bacteria through a sophisticated genetic analysis of the samples. Investigators say they believe the anthrax used in the letters came from one of the labs.
All of the deaths were traced to the Ames strain of the bacteria, first isolated in Iowa and maintained by the U.S. Army since 1980 for testing purposes. The Ames strain has been used by the government for more than 20 years in biological warfare testing.
The subpoenas, issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, asked for information "regarding the origin of each isolate" and instructed researchers on what to collect and how. They requested the samples be sent to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., via "appropriate priority overnight delivery."
The first anthrax-laced letter surfaced Oct. 2 and killed Florida photo editor Robert Stevens, 63.
The FBI said the delay until Monday in issuing the subpoenas was due to its efforts to ensure that the samples could be safely collected, sent and received. Bureau officials said the subpoenas went forward "only after several months of diligent planning."
Law-enforcement authorities and microbiology experts familiar with the FBI probe said investigators determined three months ago that the person responsible for sending the letters was a U.S. citizen and, according to the sources, probably a current or former scientist at one of the nation's research labs.
On Monday, The Washington Times reported that the FBI's five-month search for the person who mailed anthrax-laced letters to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and others had focused on a former U.S. scientist who worked at one of the research labs.
The unnamed scientist, according to the sources, was identified from among 50 government researchers known to have the technical ability to produce the sophisticated weapons-grade anthrax found in the letters.
The FBI has denied it has focused on a specific scientist, saying the investigation had yet to identify the person responsible for sending the anthrax letters. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also said several individuals were under investigation and the FBI had not narrowed its list to a single person.
Generally, the FBI considers someone a "suspect" when he has been advised formally that he is the target of an investigation.
The sources, some of whom have been interviewed by the FBI, said the bureau probe began to focus on current and former U.S. scientists after the purity and the unmilled nature of the anthrax found in the letters sent to Mr. Daschle, Mr. Leahy and members of the media matched the finely powdered Ames strain of the bacteria.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who heads the biological arms-control panel for the Federation of American Scientists, said the FBI has been working on a "short list of suspects" for some time and had narrowed that list to "a particular person … a member of the biochemical community."
Mrs. Rosenberg, a microbiologist at State University of New York, said at least three research scientists have identified a former scientist at the Fort Detrick facility as the person who mailed the anthrax-laced letters, adding that several people "inside and outside the government … are pointing to a specific suspect in the case."
In a letter last month to the 40,000 members of the American Society for Microbiology, FBI Assistant Director Van A. Harp, who heads the bureau's anthrax task force, said it was "very likely that one or more of you know this individual." He said a "single person … with legitimate access to select biological agents" was most likely responsible for the mailings.
In addition to Mr. Stevens, others who died from anthrax were U.S. postal workers Thomas Lee Morris, 55, and Joseph P. Curseen, 47, both of whom worked at the Brentwood facility in Northeast; Kathy Nyugen, a 61-year-old hospital stockroom employee in New York; and Ottilie W. Lundgren, a 94-year-old woman from Connecticut.


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