Views on BG | October 19, 2001, Friday // 00:00

ABSTRACTED from The Guardian

Anthrax of the grade involved in the Senate attack could not have been manufactured by terrorist organisations without some form of state-level help, leading biological weapons experts said last night. Any bigger than five microns, and the spores get stuck in the victim`s nasal passages and are not capable of being suspended in the air; any smaller than one micron and the victims would exhale it. Jonathan Ban, a research associate at the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute in Washington, said: `If the anthrax is between one and five microns, then that is the traditional route which states have gone down to develop anthrax as a militarily efficient biological weapon. `That raises the possibility of some state sponsorship, perhaps not in the normal sense of a government allowing the transfer of biological agents, but maybe by individuals within government or weapons programmes leaking the material.` Producing weapons-grade anthrax is incredibly difficult, according to Mr Ban, the author of a report on bioterrorism for the US centres for disease control in the wake of the September 11 attacks. First, the would-be users would have to acquire a suitably virulent strain of anthrax to use as the agent. This would not only have to be potent enough to infect people and reproduce in their systems, it would also have to be stable enough to stand up to the manufacturing process. Next, they would have to create the right conditions for growing the spores. Normally, they are grown in a wet slurry form, and it is extremely difficult to get the concentrations right. Even then, the manufacturers would need specialist equipment, such as bioregulators and fomentors, to regulate oxygen levels, temperature and ph. Most of these are commercially available, although the supply of some is restricted. After growth, the next hurdle would be to remove the agent from the wet slurry using a freeze-drying process. Again the equipment is commercially available, but the process would require some expertise to avoid damaging the agent. It is the next step, however, that is most important and most difficult: milling the dried spores down to the right size for inhalation infection to occur. The same equipment used in the manufacture of powdered drinks and flavourings could be utilised at this stage. The users would also have to establish an airflow system to ensure that the spores cannot escape while being milled, or wear bulky protective suits which in turn would make the manufacturing process more tricky. `Only a handful of countries have successfully weaponised anthrax and that was with hundreds of millions of dollars, the very best scientists, years of expertise and unlimited access to anthrax agents,` Mr Ban said. Investigators face an uphill struggle in establishing which state the anthrax may have originated from. More than a dozen other countries are believed to have had anthrax biological weapons programmes. These include Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, China, India, North and South Korea, Bulgaria, and Russia.

* Title, changed by the Editorial Staff of Breaking News

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