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On the Trail of Terrorists: What the Anthrax Cases Reveal

On September 11, America saw its commercial airplanes turn into weapons of mass destruction. Now, more than 1 month later, Americans are witnessing how something as harmless as an envelope can be turned into a vehicle for terrorism.

What do the anthrax attacks reveal about the terrorists at large? The Early Show discussed the clues with David R. Franz, former commander of the Army's germ defense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and vice president for chemical and biological defense at the Southern Research Institute at the University of Alabama.

Franz says that since the anthrax discovered is not "weapons grade" and has not been distributed on a large scale, it is a possibility that it was obtained, manufactured, and distributed within the United States.

He also points out that the US military does not make anthrax, and has destroyed all the facilities and materials involved in the process of manufacturing anthrax on US soil. This means that the culprit is not likely to be a current or former US government biological weapons expert or lab technician.

Someone in the pharmaceutical industry would have access to this type of anthrax, Franz says, but it would take a rare person--someone with a sophisticated knowledge of equipment and techniques--to be able to pull off the plan without infecting himself.

The actual cases of anthrax have been limited to small amounts of bacteria--not an impossible feat for a domestic terrorist, says Franz. If anthrax had been distributed on a wide scale, the guilty party would more likely be a state, such as Iraq, rather than an individual person or group.

As for the genetics of the strain, the apparently high grade of at least some of the dry anthrax powders--like the one sent to Daschle's office--may help investigators narrow down the list of suspects. It is easier to detect the origin of powders than the origin of crude anthrax.

Unlike the covert biological attacks often anticipated by weapon experts, the current strikes have presented federal investigators with a surfeit of clues: envelopes, handwriting, cancellation dates, mail routes, potential finger prints, as well as the germs themselves. It appears, however, that investigators are stumped. Despite a $1 million reward offered by the FBI, the case has remained unsolved so far.

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