Search for Anthrax Additive Requires More Tests

One of America's leading experts on mineral clays, Hayden Murray, a professor emeritus of geology at Indiana University, says a company based in Munich, Germany, removes aluminum from bentonite to create a finer, more refined additive than one could make from the bentonite deposits found in Iraq.

Murray says at least two American companies mine such high-quality bentonite, but the German company has a much larger customer base in the Middle East.

Last week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer confirmed the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology found another additive — silica — in the Daschle anthrax. Like bentonite, silica is used in pharmaceutical powders all over the world and would make the anthrax float through the air more effectively.

When the United States was still in the biological weapons business back in the 1960s, U.S. scientists experimented with anthrax, silica and bentonite. The former Soviet Union also used silica in powders with anthrax.

Spray Dryers

In fact, federal officials say many countries have the materials, the technology, and the know-how to put pharmaceutical powders to deadly use. Yet as far as anyone knows, only the United States and the former Soviet Union have actually produced an anthrax weapon in powdered form.

But Iraq, for one, is believed to have been trying. In the 1980s, Baghdad purchased three spray dryers from a Danish company for research purposes. In 1988 and 1989, Iraqi officials asked the Danish company that manufactured the dryers to help identify companies that would sell silica, as well as two other drying agents, kaolin and maltodextrin.

Like many items employed in the production of germ weapons, the dryers and the chemicals were "dual use." Spray dryers, for instance, are commonly used to make powdered milk. U.N. weapons inspectors say the Iraqi dryers were eventually used to make biological weapons.

The FBI apparently has its own suspicions about the use of spray dryers in the germ attacks. When ABCNEWS phoned the company that sold Iraq the dryers, officials there said the FBI had called the previous day.

'Pure Spore' Clues

The concentration of spores in the Daschle sample is another potential clue scientists can use to find its source.

In creating a germ weapon, microbiologists must induce bacteria like anthrax into a spore state, a hardier form of the cells that protects them against extreme temperatures and other environmental stress.

Spores can be induced in various ways, but American scientists discovered one of the best techniques in the '70s, years after abandoning its offensive biological warfare program. Iraq improved on the U.S. method, creating a preparation that was almost 100 percent spores.

That fits Parker's description of what he saw when he looked at the Daschle sample. "I have looked at the specimen under the microscope, both the electron microscope and the scanning microscope, and I can say that the sample was pure spores," he said. Parker also said the spores were "uniform in size," and "highly concentrated."

In an amateur preparation, experts like former Soviet biological warfare scientist Ken Alibek would expect to see a mixture of anthrax organisms in different stages of development. "Like a mix of seeds and plants," says Alibek.

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