Wednesday, July 13, 2005

How the U.S. Government Exposed Thousands of Americans to Lethal Bacteria to Test Biological Warfare

"History shouldn't be a mystery,
Our story's real history
Not, his story..."

- Chuck D, "Brothers Gonna Work It Out", Public Enemy


Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

How the U.S. Government Exposed Thousands of Americans to Lethal Bacteria to Test Biological Warfare

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The Homeland Security Department last month released what they said was nontoxic gas into New York's Grand Central Station to trace how chemicals might flow through the terminal in a terrorist attack. We speak with biological and chemical terrorism expert Leonard Cole, who asks what this "nontoxic gas" actually was. He wrote a book about how - in the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. government scientists ran a series of tests to determine how easy it would be to expose large numbers of people to a lethal bacteria.


AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Professor Leonard Cole. He teaches political science at Rutgers-Newark. His book is called The Eleventh Plague: The Politics of Biological and Chemical Warfare. You have also written The Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story. We're talking about terrorist attacks right now. We know about September 11, we certainly know about Madrid, and what happened in London. Everyone was afraid when the anthrax letters targeted the National Enquirer and killed the post office workers, but seems to hardly ever have been raised. President Bush certainly hardly raises this. What do we know about who sent them soon after September 11?

LEONARD COLE: Soon, indeed. The first postmarked letters that were later identified were September 18; exactly one week later, they had been sent out. We don't know who did it. When I say we, I mean, the public. The FBI has focused on the notion that it was probably a lone disaffected American domestic scientist who had access to these bacteria, highly refined virulent bacteria, dangerous bacteria, access to them in one of the laboratories in the US.

There are a lot of things that have happened in retrospect that sound amazing. For example, it wasn't until two years ago or three years ago, actually, in the year 2001, that we even had regulations that required scientists who handle these virulent dangerous bacteria to report to the Centers for Disease Control that they have them in stock. But until now, or until that period, people had stocks of terribly dangerous materials in their laboratories, and nobody would necessarily know about them, except they themselves who had them there. And that was perfectly legal. So, at the time that these bacteria were released, there were possibilities for access, getting to these materials by a lot of people. So, we don't know who did it.

It is -- I find it quite interesting that the notion that the bacteria were sent out exactly seven days, the first letters were sent out seven days after September 11, and then a whole bunch of other circumstantial dots, as I suggest, would suggest that maybe there was some, at least, awareness by whoever sent them out about September 11 in advance because to prepare this material, to find out who you want to send these poisoned letters to, to get them out and write the letter, and do it all in six days' time, while it's certainly physically possible, but it would be an awful stretch to think that it could be done easily.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the profile the government has of who this person or people are?

LEONARD COLE: Amazingly specific. And I can cut through by saying that the profile that they offered on the website, the FBI put on its site, ultimately closely fits somebody who was actually named in the year 2002 by then Attorney General John Ashcroft, as quote, “a person of interest.” The man's name is Steven Hatfill. Hatfill has never been charged. And when the press asked the Attorney General, ‘Well, is he a suspect?’ the Attorney General said, ‘No, no. He's just a person of interest.’ No other persons of interest were named, although ostensibly there were dozens who were being looked at. Hatfill, since his being named, lost his job, can't get a job anyplace and has sued the government for millions of dollars. And his case is still pending.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think if the person of interest had been a different ethnic background or religious background, that there would have been a great deal more of attention paid, media focusing on this issue?

LEONARD COLE: There was a gentleman of Egyptian extract who worked at Fort Detrick, and he was also investigated. He was never named publicly, but the word got out through, I guess through the gossip mill at Fort Detrick and elsewhere that a man of Arab extract who said that he had been discriminated -- suffered discrimination there in any case ultimately was being investigated carefully. There were probably scores of scientists, scores of people who fit the profile, but the only one named, as I say, was Hatfill.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your conclusion?

LEONARD COLE: I would -- my conclusion -- I don't mean to be glib or flip, I would just say that there's a very good chance that a year from now we will be asking the same question, what is my thought? I don't know who did it. I would say that all options are open. If the FBI has information more than has been released to the public, I think we ought to be hearing more about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Cole, I want to thank you for being with us, Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Rutgers, Newark. Author of The Eleventh Plague: The Politics of Biological and Chemical Warfare and his latest book, The Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story.



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