Date: January 10, 2001
Abstract: Scientists who accidently created a deadly version of mouse smallpox in the laboratory say lethal human viruses are only a step away.
The prospect of such dangerous organisms being produced relatively easily have left bioterrorism experts fearful of killer global epidemics.
The Australian researchers, reports New Scientist magazine, made one simple genetic change to a "mousepox" virus in an attempt to produce an effective contraceptive vaccine.
"Mousepox" normally causes only mild illness, and when all the animals undergoing the experiment died within days, they realised the potential of their discovery.
They say a similar change in human smallpox could produce a far more virulent strain which could even be resistant to vaccines.
Many scientists across the world are making subtle genetic modifications
to disease-causing, or pathogenic, viruses, in order to carrying gene
therapies into the body's cells.
In this case, a gene which produces a body chemical called interleukin-4 was inserted into the mousepox virus.
The idea was to stimulate an immune reaction against mouse eggs, with a contraceptive effect - but the effect was to completely suppress the part of the immune system normally mobilised to fight viral infection.
Dr Ron Jackson, who led the research, said: "It would be safe to assume
that if some idiot did put human IL-4 into human smallpox they'd
increase the lethality quite dramatically."
Smallpox infection is already believed to have an approximate mortality rate of 30% - an increase, coupled with the natural contagiousness of the virus, could be devastating, say experts.
In addition, vaccination against mousepox appeared to have far less of a protective effect for those infected with the new strain.
In fact, only half those mice vaccinated survived infection.
Experts say tiny genetic modifications may not only increase the virulence of a virus, but also render existing vaccines useless.
Professor John Bartlett, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Biodefense Studies in Baltimore, US, told BBC News Online: "I wouldn't have thought you would need anything more virulent than smallpox already is to cause a global epidemic.
"There is a lot of concern about it - the entire world is vulnerable because no-one has immunity."
He added: "If a new vaccine needs to be developed from scratch, we are talking about several years minimum.
"There are enough rogue nations and dissidents trying to do this."
He named several countries for which he said there was evidence of the
development of biological weaponry. One had taken the precaution of
inoculating its soldiers against smallpox.
A spokesman for Friends of the Earth told BBC News Online: "This is very worrying for us, and shows how unpredictable genetic engineering can be.
"We simply don't know enough to allow these experiments at present."
He called for much closer scrutiny of laboratory experiments.
So did Susan Meyer, of pressure group Genewatch, who is calling for more openness on the part of the biotechnology industry.
She said: "This discovery should really alert people to the fact that genetically altering organisms can have unexpected outcomes.
"Things don't stay in the lab all the time. You can have single gene changes that can make a big difference."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence's biological research facility at Porton Down said: "Making scientists aware of the full potential of their discoveries is important, but inevitably it carries the same risk in bringing possibilities to the attention of the unscrupulous.
"We seek to be aware of what possibilities are open to aggressor countries or terrorists. By the nature of things, this is always a game of catch-up.
"And there are already so many possibilities that absolute protection is not possible without the sort of constraints that are not acceptable ina free society."
Smallpox, a much feared disease in the 20th century, was eradicated by a massive vaccination programme.
The US recently decided to retain some stocks of the virus for experimental reasons, even though some scientists were clamouring for all stocks to be destroyed.
The disease presents as severe headache and fever, with the trademark sores appearing after a few days.
The last confirmed outbreak of smallpox was in 1977 in Somalia - later
that year, the World Health Organisation declared the disease
eradicated (BBC, 2001).
Title: Mouse Virus Or Bioweapon?
Date: January 17, 2001
Abstract: The announcement by Australian scientists that they have accidentally created a lethal mouse virus has raised fears that the technique might be used to create biological weapons. The scientists themselves have called for international conventions on biological weapons to be tightened. The researchers were not intending to produce a fatal virus but, as Toby Murcott of BBC Science reports, genetic manipulation does have the potential to spring major surprises.
The researchers, based in Canberra, Australia, were hoping to genetically engineer the mousepox virus to produce a contraceptive vaccine to control mouse populations. Instead they made the virus so virulent that it killed all of the mice in the experiment within nine days of them being injected.
Ron Jackson of CSIRO’S wildlife division and Ian Ramshaw from the Australian National University used the mousepox virus as a vehicle for transporting egg proteins into mice. Their experiment revolved around the principle that if they could add a gene, known for its ability to stimulate antibodies, to the mice then they may be able to simulate antibodies against the mouse eggs and so cause the animals to be infertile.
Whilst they were aware that the mousepox virus could cause symptoms in the mice, they believed them to be minor. However once the IL-4 gene was added the researchers were surprised by the totally unexpected result.
There are many hundreds of laboratories around the world performing thousands of different types of genetic manipulation experiments on a multitude of different organisms. Research organisations in most countries impose very strict controls on the way these experiments are conducted.
Any researchers wanting to do such work have to assess the potential risk of their experiments and consider the worst case scenario. If the risk is thought to be too high the work will not proceed. However this lethal mouse virus was a genuine accident that no one involved predicted.
Virus expert Professor John Oxford says he would not have expected this result. He comments:
He adds, though, that while rare, it is inevitable that unpredictable events will occur, which is why such experiments are closely monitored and performed in isolated laboratories.
Speaking to the New Scientist magazine, researcher Ron Jackson commented on the potential that the mousepox research might have if it fell into the wrong hands:
‘It would be safe to assume that if some idiot did put human IL-4 into human smallpox they’d increase the lethality quite dramatically…Seeing the consequences of what happened in the mice, I wouldn’t want to be the one who’d want to do the experiment.’
The potential for abuse of this discovery is real but virus expert, Professor Oxford, argues that to prevent all similar research would hinder efforts to tackle disease. Similarly concerns have been raised concerning publishing such findings and the freedom of the scientific press.
Before publishing their study the mousepox researchers consulted the Australian Department of Defence. The researchers reasons for wanting to publish were found to be justified when they explained that they wanted to make the scientific community aware that creating severe organisms can happen by accident. A full report is due to appear in the Journal of Virology in February (BBC, 2001).
Title: Mousepox As Bioweapons
Date: February 2001
Source: Free Republic
Periodic mouse plagues that occur in rural areas can eat their way through thousands of hectares of crops. Combating these plagues usually involves air drops of poisoned baits. Whilst this is sometimes effective, a more reliable and specific method of controlling mouse populations is needed.
So scientists at Canberra’s Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for the Biological Control of Pest Animals teamed up with the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra to create a strain of the mousepox virus that would cause sterility in female mice.
Mousepox is a virus that belongs to a family of viruses known as the Poxviridae. They are double-stranded DNA viruses. The pox viruses take their name from the pustules (pocks) that erupt on the skin of infected organisms. These pustules contain fluid teaming with newly made virus particles. Physical contact is the primary mode of transmission of the virus. They are a significant family of viruses in that there is a pox virus for just about every mammal you can think of - foulpox, camelpox, mousepox, cowpox, monkeypox, chickenpox, swinepox, foxpox, sealpox, dolphinpox kangaroopox and many many more. There are also pox viruses for invertebrates. Most pox viruses are specific for their host, although there are examples of pox viruses that can infect multiple species. There are around 20 pox viruses that can infect humans. The most common and well known is chickenpox. The name is misleading in that it is not a chicken virus, it is a human virus known as the Varicella Zoster virus.
For the most part, pox viruses cause relatively minor infections that leave the organism immune to future infections. There are some notable exceptions to this generalisation. The Varicella Zoster virus can cause chickenpox (mostly in childhood) but can recur later in life and cause the painful condition known as Shingles. The biggest exception is a virus known as the Variola virus. This causes an infection known as smallpox, one of history’s deadliest diseases. Smallpox was one of the most contagious and virulent diseases ever known. It killed countless millions across the world, especially in Europe, India and China. The Pharaoh Ramses V died of smallpox in 1157 BC. The disease reached Europe in 710 AD and was transferred to America by Hernando Cortez in 1520. 3.5 million Aztecs died in the next 2 years. In the cities of 18th century Europe, smallpox reached plague proportions and was a feared scourge. Five reigning European monarchs died from smallpox during the 18th century. In Europe, nearly everyone caught it at some stage in their lives. About 10-20% of infected people died as a result. Of the survivors, around 15% were permanently disfigured by the scars left from the pustules that covered the body. The English physician Edward Jenner developed the first smallpox vaccine 1798 by discovering that inoculating people with cowpox stimulated immunity to both cowpox and smallpox. Jenner coined the terms "vaccination" and "vaccine" from the name for the cowpox virus (the Vaccinia virus), which in turn comes from the Latin for cow (vacca). Since then better smallpox vaccines have been developed. The World Health Organization’s world-wide smallpox vaccination campaign has resulted in the eradication of the disease. The last recorded case was in Somalia in 1977. Samples of the smallpox virus are kept in various high-security laboratories in the USA and Russia.
The scientists genetically engineered a mousepox virus to carry the mouse egg shell protein ZP3, or zona pellucida 3, as a mouse contraceptive. The reasoning was that by infecting mice with the engineered virus, the mice would contract a mild mousepox infection and launch an immune response to the virus. But the virus expresses the mouse egg protein, so infected mice would not only make antibodies against the virus, but also against the egg protein. In females, these anti-ZP3 antibodies would then attack their own eggs in their ovaries and cause sterility whilst leaving the mice healthy (once they recovered from the mild mousepox disease) and free to mate with males. Thus, these sterile females would "dilute out" the effectiveness of breeding males in a population. This was the theory and it seemed to work quite well in one laboratory strain of mouse, but in other strains it was ineffective. If the virus is to be useful in the wild then it will have to be able to work across different strains of mice.
In order to try and make the engineered virus more effective across different strains, the scientists inserted another gene into the virus - the interleukin-4 gene (IL-4). This gene codes for a cytokine (or hormone) that is one of the many that regulate the functioning of the immune system. There was previous work that suggested a virus expressing IL-4 would increase the antibody-producing response in mice and tone down the effectiveness of virus-clearing cells of the immune system (called "killer T-cells"). It was hoped that this would increase the immune response to the ZP3 protein and make the virus an effective contraceptive across multiple strains of mice.
The results from the newly engineered mousepox virus were very unexpected. They expected only to strengthen the antibody response in resistant strains, but instead the virus overwhelmed the mice, proliferating out of control and destroying their livers. Even mice that had been vaccinated against mousepox (which is normally extremely effective at conferring resistance) fared poorly, with half dying immediately and the remainder developing a chronic abscess at the site of infection.
On a virology and immunology level, this is a very interesting result. But the implications go far beyond that. The goal of the research was certainly benign, but the study provided the first evidence to suggest that all it takes to transform an innocuous virus into a deadly virus is the insertion of a single gene. Something that was thought to be hard - increasing the pathogenicity of a virus - appears, in this case, to be easy. This has some alarming implications for the development of biological weapons. Up until now the concerns regarding biological weapons centred on the use of existing pathogens. A terrorist’s ultimate aim would be to obtain a sample of smallpox. It has been 23 years since anyone’s immune system has seen the smallpox virus. Smallpox vaccination is no longer included in the standard course of childhood vaccinations, and stocks of the vaccine are low. But smallpox is very difficult to obtain, so the next best options are bacterial pathogens - Bacillus anthracis(which causes Anthrax) and Yersinia pestis (which causes The Plague). However, when it comes to the large scale production of these pathogens, biological weapons inspectors know what to look for. The specific facilities and reagents needed are a dead give-away. The mousepox result, however, may indicate that commonly used technology found in any biotechnology laboratory in the world could be used to create new viruses that overwhelm resistance and render vaccination useless. The close relationship between the pox viruses raises the question as to whether it would be possible to transform other members of the family, including those that infect humans. By inserting IL-4 into chickenpox, would it be possible to transform chickenpox into a virus that is more deadly than smallpox?
The team spent 18 months confirming the data and debating whether to go public with them. In the end, disclosure won out over concerns about educating future bioterrorists and alarming the public. In an interesting twist, on publication of the results it was not environmentalists or media commentators that were sounding the warning, but the scientists themselves. On 16 January the CRC issued a press release timed to accompany the article that pleaded for stronger measures to combat the threat of biowarfare arising from such good intentions. Not surprisingly, the press release triggered sensational warnings in the Australian media and elsewhere. The scientists said that it should serve as a warning to the community to be more aware of the potentially harmful consequences of their work. "We need the public to trust us if we are going to seek their approval to release pest-control viruses down the track," says CRC director Bob Seamark, who led the research. But any intentional release, he hastens to add, won't involve viruses carrying the IL-4 gene. "These are confined to the high-security lab."
Despite the warnings, it's not clear whether the unexpected result, which turned a vector into a potent killer, could be duplicated in viruses that affect humans. Such fears may be overrated, says Ron Jackson, the CRC virologist who carried out much of the work. Jackson suspects that the findings may be peculiar to the mousepox virus, which naturally carries other proteins that weaken the antiviral response. He notes that the same result did not occur with the vaccinia virus (cowpox) in other experiments.
Deterring Bioweapons Development
The implications of this finding are of intense interest to organizations such as the Federation of American Scientists, which has formed a working group to develop a protocol that would add verification powers to the currently toothless international convention on biological weapons - the 1975 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).
The emerging fields of genomics and proteomics holds great potential for the development of new useful biological reagents, but many of these will also have utility as biological weapons, or will suggest ways of creating such weapons. The treaty does not prohibit research, but it does prohibit the development, production, or stockpiling of biological or toxic agents and of devices to deliver such agents for other than peaceful purposes. However, with no provisions for verification, the treaty has proved to be a weak deterrent to nations committed to biological weapons development.
For this reason, an addendum to the BTWC has been negotiated over the past five years. The addendum calls for:
1. Annual declarations of facilities with the potential for use in a biological weapons program.
2. Random visits to such facilities by teams of international inspectors.
3. Establishing a mechanism for investigation of suspicions of violation of the BTWC.
Its adoption would significantly improve international security and reduce the risk of bioterrorism by inhibiting bioweapons development. The United States, however, has consistently delayed progress and pressed for a weakening of the new provisions, and now might completely derail the negotiations by stalling past the deadline imposed for completion of the addendum (Free Republic, 2001).
Title: Biden: Bioterrorism More Of A Threat Than Missiles
Date: September 5, 2001
Abstract: Seeking to deflect Congress from President Bush's proposal for a missile defense system, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden said his committee would concentrate on the threat of bioterrorism during the current Congressional session.
"In my view, the threat from anonymously-delivered biological weapons and from emerging infectious diseases simply dwarfs the threat that we will be attacked by a third-world ICBM with a return address," the Delaware Democrat said. "This committee will spend a lot of time" on that issue.
Biden and other senators said the administration's 2002 budget allotment of $182 million for combating bioterrorism was not enough, and called for laws banning the possession of deadly agents such as anthrax, botulism and smallpox.
The panel's ranking Republican, retiring Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, agreed but said "a robust missile defense system" could also prevent attack using a missile armed with a biological weapon.
Former Senator Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who was at one time chairman of the foreign relations committee, told the committee he would put the biological threat to U.S. national security "near the top of the list." Without cooperation with Russian scientists, he said, the danger cannot be significantly reduced.
"We cannot solve it by ourselves," Nunn said, advocating a joint program to be started by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin "to work together to develop vaccines and other defenses."
Former CIA Director James Woolsey said a biological attack on the United States by terrorists or an enemy state is the most serious threat the nation faces from weapons of mass destruction, in part because the weapons are easy to make and to conceal.
"Often you don't
even have to smuggle anything," said Woolsey. "Anthrax grows in many
cow pastures in the world and much of the equipment one would need to weaponize
it is transportable. Some of it is little more complex than that for, say, a
microbrewery attached to a restaurant" (CNN,
Title: Anthrax, Smallpox, Vx: The Inferno Next Time
Date: October 17, 2001
Source: All Africa
As the true extent of the tragedy sinks in - perhaps 20,000, perhaps 30,000 dead (half the number of young Americans who perished in Vietnam) - the world's most powerful nation could turn inwards again and become introverted vis-a-vis Africa, the most neglected continent (All Africa, 2001).Title: Anthrax In Parcel Sent To Nairobi Doctor
Date: October 17, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: An anthrax alert was flashed to health headquarters in Nairobi yesterday after a white powder feared to contain the deadly bacteria was found at the United Nations in Gigiri.
The powder was in a parcel sent from Pakistan, one source said.
Another parcel mailed from Georgia in the United States also contained the suspect powder, it was believed.
The parcels were detected by security staff at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters and were immediately put in polythene bags and taken to the Ministry of Health.The discoveries sent ministry officials into a crisis meeting which went on late into the evening (High Beam, 2001).
Title: Anthrax In Parcel Sent To Nairobi Doctor
Date: October 19, 2001
Abstract: A Kenyan doctor has been sent a package containing anthrax bacteria, authorities in Nairobi said yesterday.
It is the first such attack outside America and heightens fears that biological weapons could be used anywhere in the world.
The anthrax was in a package sent to the doctor in Nairobi by his brother in America. It had been tampered with while in transit in Florida.
Tests were being carried out on two other suspicious letters, one of which was sent to the United Nations Environment Programme, which has its headquarters in Nairobi, from Pakistan. Up to 10 of its employees were being treated with antibiotics as a precaution.
Kenya's health minister, Sam Ongeri, said all three packages
contained a powdery substance. He declared a state of alert. Officials
linked the cases and said they believed Osama bin Laden was a likely
"It is bio-terrorism," Julius Meme, Kenya's director of health, said. "We are under attack again.
"Kenya was bombed in 1998 by terrorists and now this attack seems to follow in the pattern of what is happening in the United States."
Four men linked to bin Laden were sentenced to life imprisonment in New York yesterday for their roles in the bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, in which 224 people were killed, 202 of them Kenyans.
This is the only trial so far of any of bin Laden's followers. It would not have taken place without the help of Kenyan intelligence during the investigation.
President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya has pledged total support for America's war on global terrorism and has agreed to provide logistical help to the US military.
His stance has provoked fierce opposition from the country's Muslims, 2,000 of whom held a pro-bin Laden demonstration in Nairobi a week ago.
The doctor who received the letter containing anthrax bacteria has not been named but officials said he and three other people who came into contact with it were being treated with antibiotics. It is not yet known whether they have developed the disease.
The package, containing cloth samples, was posted in Atlanta by a relative of the doctor on Sept 8, three days before the attacks on New York and Washington.
According to Prof Meme, the package, posted express, was diverted through Miami in Florida "at a time when some of the September 11 hijackers were known to be in the state". He said the bacteria were probably put in after it was posted.
The parcel did not arrive in Kenya until Oct 9 and was opened by the doctor's secretary two days later.
"She handed it to him and it was soggy and mouldy," Prof Meme said. "He took the envelope home and after a day or so he became suspicious and brought it to a hospital for analysis."
White powder was also found in a parcel sent to the UN from Pakistan. It was removed in polythene bags and taken to the Health Ministry for further analysis.
The third parcel was sent to a businessman in the town of
Nyeri. It was allegedly posted in Nairobi. Mr Ongeri said it contained a
pink powder (Telegraph, 2001).
Title: Top Security Lab Established To Deal With Terrorists' Bugs
Date: October 19, 2001
Source: High Beam
The institute is also stockpiling testing reagents for such germ-based diseases spread by terrorists.
According to Dr Gabriel Mbugua, director of Kemri's Centre for Microbiology Research and head of the laboratory team in charge of testing suspect samples in the current anthrax scare, the country has enough capacity to test any number of anthrax samples.
"Anthrax is a fairly ordinary organism and we have the necessary personnel, lab equipment, reagents and know-how to test...(High Beam, 2001).
Date: October 19, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Kenya is no stranger to anthrax. There has been a recent resurgence in the disease - commonly found among domestic animals and wild game - due to a breakdown in vaccination services. What is new in the bioterrorism scare is the use of powder anthrax bacteria to deliberately infect people...(High Beam, 2001).
Title: Deputy Speaker In Anthrax Fear At Mystery Mail
Date: October 19, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Parcels to Kenya's Deputy Speaker and a doctor at a leading hospital were among nine feared to contain anthrax pores. Deputy Speaker Joab Omino's and five of the others were cleared by scientists at the Kenya Medical Research Institute - but the Nairobi Hospital doctor's packet was found to contain the potentially deadly bacteria. The scientists were last night checking two other letters which were received in the capital only hours before. Mr Omino said he decided not to open his letter because he could not tell where it had come from. Instead, it was handed to the police. The alert came as an increasing number of...(High Beam, 2001).
Title: Parcel Taken For Tests as Firms Step Up Security
Date: October 20, 2001
Source: All Africa
Abstract: The envelope businessman Martin Njoroge Nduati received from Barclays Bank containing a white powder looked substandard because it did not bear the bank's logo, he said. However, another envelope inside the larger parcel was complete with the logo, and was self-addressed to the bank's Nairobi Area Manager (All Africa, 2001).
Title: Govt Bodies Form Anthrax Task Force
Date: October 20, 2001
Source: All Africa
Abstract: Health and security departments have formed a joint task force to deal with Anthrax, the bioterrorism threat. The move comes a day after a Kenyan businessman received a letter stuffed with anthrax germs. Three other members of his family were exposed to the germs (All Africa, 2001).
Bioterror Drills Showed U.S. Not Ready
Date: October 21, 2001
Source: SF Gate
As the nation grappled with anthrax, the FBI at first took a letter that turned out to be harmless from NBC News to a New York City Health Department laboratory for testing, and when the letter containing anthrax was finally tested days later, technicians accidentally contaminated a special chamber in the lab, forcing its closing.
Officials in Florida told executives at a tabloid newspaper office on a Friday that there was no reason to close shop because a photo editor had died of anthrax, then shut the office down that Sunday after much of the staff had worked there all weekend.
And nowhere was confusion worse than at the seat of government on Capitol Hill. When more than two dozen workers were exposed to anthrax from a letter opened in the office of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested wrongly that people were already "infected" and that spores were in the ventilation system. He sent his members home, while the Senate, which had raised the alarm, closed its offices but met as usual.
So far, one person has died and a handful out of thousands tested have been infected and are responding to treatment with antibiotics or are cured.
But repeated confusion about coordination, communication, politics, bureaucracy and science amplified on television and the Internet 24 hours a day also exposed many of the basic weaknesses in the nation's sprawling and disparate emergency response system that the experts had warned about.
It was just the kind of confusion that drills like "Dark Winter" -- a make- believe smallpox attack staged this summer by several think tanks -- had shown might occur.
"Today is a horrific reprise," said Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who played himself in the exercise, in which a million people were "killed," public order collapsed, state and federal officials disagreed over how to handle the situation and put out information, and the National Security Council wound up discussing the need for martial law.
Senior government officials say they have learned painful lessons about what and what not to say and do in the future. By Thursday, the White House, realizing it had allowed public confusion to fester, began staging daily briefings with its new chief of domestic security, former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and top doctors and officials from a bevy of affected agencies.
The missteps began early. Even as Robert Stevens lay dying of anthrax, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, suggested it was an isolated case, perhaps contracted by drinking from a stream, a possibility scientists immediately dismissed as unlikely.
Such comments, and the subsequent stinginess of federal law enforcement and health officials in releasing information, fueled rather than calmed public fears.
"It started from the very beginning, when they said Mr. Stevens was an isolated event and we thought they were checking sheep in North Carolina," said Rep. Robert Wexler, whose district includes Boca Raton, Fla., where Stevens worked for American Media.
New York City had been preparing for the biological or chemical attack it hoped it would never face since at least 1997, when officials staged an elaborate drill that involved hundreds of city workers, more than 40 hospital emergency rooms and executives from an array of critical industries.
But when anthrax began coming in letters to news organizations, both the FBI and city health technicians made serious blunders and bureaucratic rivalries broke out between New York City officials and the FBI, both sides acknowledged.
The FBI did not initially notify the police of a report of a suspicious letter at NBC News and later pressed for more extensive environmental tests than the city wanted at ABC, where the infant son of a news producer was presumed to have been infected, although no contamination was found there.
When the FBI was first contacted about a suspicious letter at NBC on Sept. 25, it did not show up until the next day. The officials did not move to test the letter immediately for anthrax spores, and did not follow protocol and alert the city police.
There was confusion because the suspicious letter first produced by NBC and handled by Erin O'Connor, an aide to Tom Brokaw who had developed a rash, turned out to be harmless and tested negative for anthrax.
But the most embarrassing mistake occurred when two technicians in the city Health Department laboratory moved to test this letter. Working in an area known as a biological safety cabinet equipped with a powerful exhaust fan designed to pull out contamination, they kept the blower turned off, concerned that when they opened the letter it might suck out the anthrax spores before they could be examined.
The technicians worked in gloves and a mask, yet somehow the anthrax contaminated the laboratory and exposed the technicians to minute amounts of bacteria. They were given antibiotics as a precaution.
At the moment the city needed the laboratory most, it was briefly knocked out of commission, and the city had to turn to the state Health Department's Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research in Albany for help.
On Capitol Hill, the response was just as chaotic. Only the week before the Daschle incident, Congress had put the final touches on its own arrangements with the National Naval Medical Center and an army laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md., to help in cases of bioterrorism.
Some congressional officials were receiving briefings about the plan on Monday morning, about the time an aide in Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building opened a letter and saw white powder spill out. Soon, with their two-story office suite under quarantine, about 40 members of Daschle's staff had what one aide, Jay Carson, called the "surreal moment" of watching the television coverage of themselves as the latest victims of terrorist attack.
Officials now acknowledge that there were mistakes in their initial response. It took 30 to 45 minutes to shut down the ventilation system serving the southeast quadrant of the bustling building. The first police officers on the scene had no protective suits and are counted among the 28 people who eventually tested positive for exposure.
But nothing was more confusing than the accounts of the politicians themselves about the gravity of the threat.
On Tuesday, after experts from the military and the FBI briefed senators, Daschle told reporters, "We were told it was a very strong form of anthrax, a very potent form of anthrax, which clearly was produced by someone who knew what he or she was doing" (SF Gate, 2001).
Title: Union Wants Anthrax Vaccine For Workers
Date: October 22, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: The Union of Posts and Telecommunications workers want mail handlers vaccinated as the anthrax scare spreads. The protective gear given to workers by the Postal Corporation of Kenya was not enough, the Nairobi branch of the Union of Posts and Telecommunications said yesterday. Mr Abel Nandwa, the branch secretary, said "Vaccination against anthrax is considered more effective than body protective gear." The vaccination, he said, should extend to employees of DHL, UPS, TNT Express and other courier service organisations. Mr Nandwa said workers have been scared by the threat of bioterrorism. He called for the setting u...(High Beam, 2001).
Title: Anthrax Scares Kampala
Date: October 23, 2001
Source: All Africa
Abstract: The National task force on bioterrorism is investigating two anthrax scares reported in Kampala yesterday, health ministry officials have said.
Dr. Sam Okware, the commissioner for community health, said samples from two suspicious parcels had been taken for testing and results would be out today (All Africa, 2001).Title: Personal Vendetta Blamed For Grahamstown Anthrax Scares
Date: October 24, 2001
Source: All Africa
Abstract: A personal vendetta was blamed for anthrax letter scares at two co-owned businesses in Grahamstown yesterday afternoon.
Two addressed envelopes containing palm-full amounts of a mystery
white powder were received at the popular Fruit & Veg City off Church
Square and Marvics fruit and vegetable wholesalers in Beaufort Street
near the Grahamstown police station (All Africa, 2001).
Title: State Truth On Anthrax
Date: October 25, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: What we really need is a terse statement once and for all whether or not Kenya has been invaded by human anthrax.
A spokesman yesterday insisted on the Government's earlier affirmation that powder contained in external mail contained the deadly germs.
He was commenting on a claim by the local office of the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) that its own tests had proved wrong the Government's earlier finding.
Yet there may be a common denominator. Kenya's statement was referring specifically to powder posted from the US. Powder posted from Pakistan and elsewhere had proved harmless.
That was what raised doubts in...(High Beam, 2001).Title: US And Kenya Experts Clash Over Anthrax
Date: October 25, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Experts in Kenya and the US have differed sharply over whether a parcel sent to a Kenyan doctor actually contained anthrax.
Less than a week after Health Minister Sam Ongeri announced that the parcel did contain anthrax, the US said yesterday that its own tests showed no trace of the deadly bacteria.
The Kenya government however insisted that tests by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) which showed the presence of anthrax spores "were 100 per cent correct".
The parcel - one of 43 examined by Kemri but the
only one to test positive - was sent to Dr Samuel Mwinzi of Nairobi
Hospital by his daughter who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. It contained
cloth samples and a polythene envelope in which was...(High Beam, 2001).
Date: October 25, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Two parcels that caused an anthrax scare in Kampala on Monday have both tested negative for the dreaded germ, health ministry officials said yesterday.
Meanwhile, the AFP yesterday quoted reports from Paris, France as saying that both anthrax attacks reported outside the United States proved to be false alarms.
A letter which Kenyan authorities had said contained anthrax spores later tested negative for the bacterium, a US official said, while an Argentinian official said that anthrax found in a letter there was from a harmless strain.
Uganda's commissioner for community health, Dr. Sam Okware, said preliminary results from...(High Beam, 2001).
Title: Quick Action Is Key Defence Against Bioweapons
Date: November 5, 2001
Source: High Beam
Those features make living organisms the weapons with the most dreadful potential. A potential more powerful, biodefence experts say, than that posed by conventional warheads, or even nuclear weapons.
Thankfully, biowarfare experts add, the high-tech facilities and skilled personnel needed to produce pathogenic organisms for large-scale biowarfare use pose major challenges to even nations, let alone individual terrorists.
Theoretically, health experts say, almost any infectious agents could be manipulated into a devastating bioweapon in the...(High Beam, 2001).Title: Bioterror: Microbes Need No Passports To Travel
Date: November 5, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Governments the world over are taking measures to protect their citizens against possible bioterror attacks in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US and the subsequent war in Afghanistan. Special Correspondent Dagi Kimani looks at possible bioterror tools and delivery systems and examines the inherent risks. Dr Richard Duma, head of infectious diseases at Halifax Medical Centre in Daytona Beach, Florida, in the US and a member of the board of America's National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, was brutally honest recently when asked about the risk posed to the world by biological weapons.
"Microbes know no boundaries," he said. "They don't need passports to travel."
In the wake of the anthrax attacks in the United States, in which four people have died so far, this is the chilling reality the world is coming to live with. Bioterror, long the subject of Hollywood films, has finally arrived.
In America, bioterrorism and biological warfare experts have for three years been sounding increasingly urgent warnings about the risk of a germ attack. Only recently, however, have they started getting government funding to increase vaccine doses, stockpile antibiotics and explore various treatments for deadly haemorrhagic fevers.
Before the recent attacks, the experts had already compiled an "A" list of likely germ agents to be used in attacks. At the top was anthrax. But virtually all these experts also agree that the anthrax bacillus represents only one of a horrifying array of pathogens that can be engineered into weapons.
Anthrax itself is considered by military and bioterrorism experts to be the terrorist's weapon of choice because it is deadly when inhaled, with up to a 90 per cent death rate; is relatively easy to get hold of; the spores are stable and can be dispersed by anything from a letter to a bomb; and because the symptoms look harmless until it is almost too late to treat it.But anthrax is not easy to process into a usable form, is easy to treat with antibiotics and is not...(High Beam, 2001).
Title: Bioterrorism: Threat & Response
Date: November 6, 2001
Source: CFR (Council on Foreign Relations)
Abstract: On November 6th, the CFR/Milbank Memorial Fund RT on Health & Foreign Policy held a session entitled, “Bioterrorism: Threat & Response,” with Jonathan B. Tucker/Dir., Chemical & Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program, Monterey Institute of International Studies. Since Jordan’s wife decided to have their baby that evening, Dan Fox presided.
Dr Tucker began the meeting by recognizing that terrorists may threaten or attempt to use a biological of chemical weapon against the United States. A number of factors are increasing the risk of a large-scale biological attack. Although small, independent terrorist groups would encounter difficulties acquiring the technical and financial resources to execute a large-scale terrorist attack, a hostile state sponsor could provide terrorists with the necessary expertise and specialized dissemination equipment. Disturbingly, terrorist groups have already aggressively recruited Japanese, Russian, and South African biological and chemical weapons experts. Even in the face of US deterrent threats, a rogue sate or terrorist group that believed that it could carry out an attack without attribution might be tempted to do so particularly in the heat of crisis.
State public health and medical communities stand directly on the front lines of combating against biological warfare. Response effectiveness will depend on the preparedness of State and local public health system. Unfortunately, there is insufficient funding for hospitals, laboratories, clinics, information networks, and other necessary elements to ensure an effective public health response in the event of a bioterrorism attack.
Combating bioterrorism through immediate first response and a reliable medical and public health infrastructure depends upon a sustained Federal, State, and local resource commitment. Dr. Tucker recommended that targeted block grants be administered to states and localities to strengthen the public health infrastructure He also emphasized that the various elements of the public health system at the local, state and federal levels should be integrated. Secure and reliable channels of communication networks should be established between local, state, and federal public health officials. Additionally, to remedy this situation it is necessary for the intelligence community to aggressively recruit more individuals with advanced training in microbiology, infectious disease, and epidemiology to work as intelligence analysts (CFR, 2001).Title: Before The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee On Crime
Date: November 7, 2001
Abstract: Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the law enforcement response to bioterrorism.
The Bioterrorism threat has risen to a new level. The federal government, in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, has always taken the threat concerning intentional release of a biological agent seriously. However, neither the federal government nor state and local responders have been required to utilize their assets to coordinate a response to an actual release of anthrax. The intentional introduction of bacillus anthracis into the infrastructure of American lives has resulted in significant panic and alarm concerning our health and safety. Today, I would like to comment on the manner in which the law enforcement community responds to a suspected act of terrorism involving biological agents, and reinforce the cooperative effort that is in place between the federal government and the myriad of first responders who provide guidance, assistance and expertise.
The response to a potential bioterrorist threat can be broken down into two different scenarios: overt and covert releases. The distinction between the two involves the manner in which the biological threat agent is introduced into the community and the nature of the response. Regardless of whether a biological release is overt or covert, the primary mission of law enforcement and the public health community is saving lives.
An overt scenario involves the announced release of an agent, often with some type of articulated threat. An example of this would be the receipt of a letter containing a powder and a note indicating that the recipient has been exposed to anthrax. This type of situation would prompt an immediate law enforcement response, to include local police, fire and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel. Each FBI field office is staffed with a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Coordinator whose responsibilities include liaison with first responders in the community. Due to this established relationship with first responders, the local FBI WMD Coordinator would be notified and dispatched to the scene. The FBI investigates these articulated threats involving a biological agent. The response protocol would involve securing the crime scene and initiating the FBI's interagency threat assessment process. The FBI's Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters, coordinates this threat assessment which determines the credibility of the threat received, the immediate concerns involving health and safety of the responding personnel, and the requisite level of response warranted by the federal government. The FBI obtains detailed information from the on-scene personnel and input from the necessary federal agencies with responsibility in the particular incident. In a biological event, representatives from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are the key agencies called upon to assist FBI personnel in assessing the particular threat. Based upon the assessment, a determination is made as to the level of response necessary to adequately address the particular threat, which could range from a full federal response if the threat is deemed credible, to collection of the material in an effort to rule out the presence of any biological material if the threat is deemed not credible.
The method of collecting suspect material is established by protocols set forth by the FBI's Hazardous Material Response Unit (HMRU). These protocols, recognized and followed by state and local Hazmat teams, are necessary to ensure that sufficient evidentiary samples are collected, screened and over-packed according to scientific safety guidelines for transportation to the appropriate testing facility. Over 85 State Health Laboratories perform this analysis on behalf of CDC and belong to a coordinated collection of facilities known as the Laboratory Response Network (LRN). Once the testing has been completed, results are provided to the FBI for dissemination in the appropriate manner. The results of the analysis are then disseminated to the exposed person or persons, local first responders and to the local public health department. Additionally, results will be forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA.
A covert release of a biological agent invokes a different type of response, driven by the public health community. By its nature, a covert introduction is not accompanied by any articulated or known threat. The presence of the disease is discovered through the presentation of unusual signs and/or symptoms in individuals reporting to local hospitals or physician clinics. In this situation, there is initially no crime scene for law enforcement personnel to respond. The criminal act may not be revealed until days have elapsed, following the agent identification and preliminary results obtained from the epidemiological inquiry conducted by the public health sector. Contrary to an overt act where law enforcement makes the necessary notification to public health, in a covert release, notification to law enforcement is made by the public health sector. The early notification of law enforcement in this process encourages the sharing of information between criminal and epidemiological investigators. Once an indication of a criminal act utilizing a biological agent is suspected, the FBI assumes primary authority in conducting the criminal investigation, while public health maintains responsibility for the health and welfare of the citizens. At the local level, involving the FBI WMD Coordinator and the State or local public health department, and at the national level between FBI Headquarters and the CDC, an effective coordination has been accomplished to address the requisite roles and responsibilities of each agency.
The response to an actual threat or one that is later determined to be not credible, or a hoax, is indistinguishable. This includes deployment of a Hazmat team, thorough examination of the potentially contaminated area (including situations where a telephonic reporting is received) and the disruption of the normal operations of the affected entity. Additionally, the individuals potentially exposed to the WMD may experience extreme anxiety/fear due to the reported release. Potential victims may have to be decontaminated or transported to a medical facility. The first responders must treat each incident as a real event until scientific analysis proves that the material is not a biological agent. To both the responding entities and the potentially exposed victims, the presence of a powder threatening the presence of "anthrax" is not a hoax, or something to be taken lightly. The individuals perpetrating such an activity must be held accountable for their actions.
In 1999, the FBI testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, discussing the need for improved Federal statutes which address the threatened use and possession of biological agents. During this testimony, it was reported that in 1998, the FBI opened 181 cases related to WMD events, of which 112 were biological in nature. The number of cases has increased since then, with 267 in 1999, and 257 in 2000. (threatened biological releases accounted for 187 and 115 respectively.)Prior to the events of September 11, 2001 the number of cases initiated for 2001 was 100, of which 67 were biological, and a large percentage of these cases involved the threatened release of anthrax, necessitating a law enforcement response. However, the combined terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the subsequent publicity afforded to a handful of anthrax threats, and the tragic death of four persons, have resulted in a dramatic increase in calls for help from the public. Since mid-September, the FBI has responded to over 7,000 suspicious anthrax letters, 950 incidents involving other WMD matters, and an estimated 29,000 telephone calls from the public about suspicious packages. In that same time frame, the FBI has initiated 305 new anthrax related investigations which exceeds and virtually doubles the normal annual average of all WMD cases. Resources available by law enforcement in responding to the alleged threats and public health laboratories in testing suspicious material for the presence of biological agents are limited (FBI, 2001).
Title: Governments Brace For Bioterrorist Attacks
Date: November 9, 2001
Source: High Beam
Abstract: Following the confirmation of one anthrax case and several suspected others in Nairobi last week, the governments of the three East African states are pulling all stops to pre-empt bioterrorist attacks.
Kenya and Tanzania are still smarting from the 1998 bomb attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which left over 250 people dead and about 5,000 others injured.
The action by the three countries follows the suicide hijack attacks in New York and Washington, in which over 6,000 people, including 25 Africans, are believed to have perished (High Beam, 2001).
Date: November 27, 2001
Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal
Abstract: The bioterrorism threat gripping North America didn't take long to reach across the Atlantic.