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Dugway Scientist: Anthrax Case was `Perfect Crime'

Dugway Scientist: Anthrax Case was `Perfect Crime'

Posted - Jun. 12, 2003 at 3:47 p.m.



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DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah (AP) -- The deadly anthrax-by-mail attacks may have been "the perfect crime," says the chief government scientist in charge of defending the U.S. military against biological agents.

Army microbiologist Jeff Mohr said no fingerprints were found on the anthrax-laced letters and that he knew of no other evidence pointing to a culprit. He said his laboratory at Dugway Proving Ground -- which uses biological and chemical agents to test battlefield sensors and soldier suits -- no longer is under suspicion by investigators.

"They can't crack it because there's no forensic trail. It was a perfect crime," said Mohr, who led a tour Wednesday for The Associated Press of one of the few U.S. laboratories that deals with anthrax.

One FBI investigator who visited this military base 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City disagreed with Mohr's blunt assessment. The FBI's Washington field office pointed out that agents were draining a pond in Frederick, Md., where they reportedly found a transparent lab box with sealed arm holes.

Mohr, who served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq after the Persian Gulf war, said anthrax can be safely handled only inside such a glove chamber that he says probably was used to fill the anthrax letters.

Mohr said his Life Sciences Test Facility was cleared of any involvement in the anthrax case that in 2001 killed five people and infected another 17 from Florida to New York City.

"Obviously when that happened they were on us because we had the Ames strain of anthrax" found in the letters, Mohr said. "But we are not suspected anymore. Some of us were polygraphed."

Col. Gary Harter, commander of Dugway Proving Ground, said he hadn't seen or heard from the FBI in a year.

Dugway doesn't produce anthrax and uses only small amounts of biological and chemical agents to test military defense systems, he said.

Mohr's synopsis of the anthrax case as a perfect crime was challenged by FBI agent George Dougherty, who said some evidence was turning up but he wouldn't elaborate.

Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office, said agents were draining the Maryland pond that is eight miles from the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, the primary custodian of the Ames anthrax strain.

Dougherty said Dugway was no more or less under suspicion than any of a handful of U.S. labs that deal in anthrax or have a "working knowledge" of it.

"We were suspicious of everybody and went out there (to Dugway) to eliminate any ties" to the anthrax letters, he said Thursday. "They were very cooperative."

Dugway scientists helped the FBI understand how the powdery anthrax likely was produced and how only someone with specific knowledge could have made it and survived.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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