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View Diary: Expert alleges Anthrax attacks covered up by FBI (279 comments)

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  •  Wow, thanks, great feedback (0+ / 0-)

    although he does contend that the anthrax in question was in fact genetically engineered.

    •  Let me address that, as well as (1+ / 0-)
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      a couple of other things I noticed in the 2003 article.

      I would like to see the NY Times story Boyle alludes to that said DOD was developing "a resistant strain of anthrax with genetic engineering" and "super weapons-grade anthrax in quantities and strengths that have no legitimate defensive purpose." (I find it curious, and a bit sloppy, that Boyle footnotes other statements but provides no source for this one.) I remember a NYT story at roughly the right time, about anthrax being made in small quantities at Dugway but saying nothing about his other claims. IIRC DOD claimed it was trying to  to see how hard it would be to make weaponizable anthrax using commercially available equipment; the idea was to get a handle on how much of a threat there is "down in the ground clutter." (The answer, again IIRC, was: You can't quite do it in a bathtub, but it's not all that hard & not beyond the capabilities of a millionaire with a BS in microbiology.) I hold no brief for this explanation--it doesn't seem implausible but it's also not completely convincing.

      Re the engineered anthrax, I'll hazard a guess that the goal was to verify the story of Kanatjan Alibekov, a key player of the USSR bioweapons program who defected in the early 1990s, who said that the Soviet program had developed an antibiotic-resistant form of B. anthracis. This is described in his book Biohazard (under his new Anglicized name, Ken Alibek) on page 160ff. My guess is that KA provided enough detail to reverse engineer the stuff. And this is arguably a legitimate biodefense activity--if the SU had this stuff in quantity, it could've gotten out to who knows where. (Or still be sitting in a lab somewhere in Putinland.  Anthrax spores last a long time; British tests of weaponized anthrax on Gruinard Island off the Scottish coast in the 1940s kept the place off limits to unprotected humans until 1984--even after the place had been napalmed a couple of times to burn the remnants off.) A prudent defensive research activity would need some of the agent at hand to test any proposed countermeasures against.

      Boyle's term "'defensive' biological agents" is again misleading at best. Ain't no such animal. You do research to develop countermeasures against bioagents--to test which you some (usually relatively small) quantity of the agent in question. He seems to recognize this in the next sentence, but even so his usage is sloppy and appears to be an attempt to make things sound direr than the bare facts warrant.

      Finally, his characterization of anthrax with "a trillion spores per gram" as being "super weapons-grade" is bogus because it's irrelevant. It's not the density of the spores that makes anthrax "weapons-grade." (I'd wager anthrax spores dug up from a sheep pasture--yes, you can probably find them in any such--would weigh about the same, 1E-12 g.) The weaponization comes from two things that I alluded to in the last post: particles in the proper size range for retention in the deep lung, and treatment to keep particles that small from electrostatically clumping up into larger aggregates. (Boyle acknowledges the latter point in the next paragaph of his article.)

      (BTW, you're welcome. ;) )

      May I bow to Necessity not/ To her hirelings (W. S. Merwin)

      by Uncle Cosmo on Wed Dec 13, 2006 at 05:54:24 PM PST

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