Anthrax letters prepared under water, says FBI
Divers find equipment for terror campaign in Maryland pond

Guardian | May 12, 2003
By Julian Borger

FBI investigators now suspect that the anthrax-filled letters sent to politicians and media figures in 2001 may have been prepared underwater using equipment investigators have discovered in a Maryland pond, it was reported yesterday. 
This secluded pond, set in a thickly wooded park near Washington, is going to be drained in the next few weeks after divers found a clear box with holes for gloves of the sort used in handling extremely dangerous biological material. They also found vials wrapped in plastic. 

According to the Washington Post, which reported the FBI find, some investigators believe that the anthrax killer waded into the pond taking the box with the vials of anthrax and envelopes already inside. 
Pouring the dried anthrax spores into the envelopes in a watertight glove box would have greatly reduced the risk that the finely milled spores would have escaped, putting the perpetrator at risk and leaving microscopic evidence behind. The box and other equipment could then be left in the pond. Others on the case reportedly believe the equipment could have been dumped in the pond after use.

The box and vials were found in the winter after the FBI received a tip that evidence might be submerged in the ponds close to the town of Frederick, and divers had to break through ice to investigate.

The find represents the first physical evidence to surface in a case, codenamed Amerithrax, that has baffled the FBI for 18 months. It strengthens the growing belief that the attacks, which killed six people and made 13 others ill, were carried out by a home-grown terrorist, with possible links with the US bio-defence establishment. The pond on the outskirts of Washington, is eight miles from Fort Detrick, the headquarters of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Army scientists have reproduced the anthrax powder used in the 2001 attacks and concluded it was made using relatively rudimentary methods and cheap equipment. 

No suspects have been named so far in the investigation, but the attorney general, John Ashcroft has named a "person of interest" to the inquiry - Steven Hatfill, a former Fort Detrick employee and bioterrorism expert who had also written an unpublished novel describing an attack with some similarities to the anthrax crisis of 2001. 

The Washington Post noted that Mr Hatfill, a former member of the Rhodesian special forces, had a postgraduate diploma in diving and underwater medicine from a South African naval training institute. 

Mr Hatfill has vigorously denied any involvement, and has accused the FBI of ruining his life by leaking its suspicions to the press. He says he has been unable to find a job and is under 24-hour surveillance. His lawyer, Thomas Connolly, said the box could simply be discarded medical or scientific equipment, or from an illegal methamphetamine laboratory. 

The contaminated envelopes were sent in from a postbox near Princeton University in New Jersey. They were addressed to the offices of two Democratic senators, Thomas Daschle and Patrick Leahy, as well as media companies in New York and Florida.

Among the five victims were the photo editor for a magazine, two postal workers, a hospital employee and a 94-year-old woman. The last two victims are believed to have been killed by cross-contamination between envelopes in the post.