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Those of Us With Access to Anthrax

Norman M. Covert

August 29, 2002

It has become a no-brainer to think that Dr. Stephen Hatfill is the mad anthrax mailer. His public affairs offensive is a winner and the government is on the run. It has been caught doing what it always does in a crisis - it throws a lot of money at a problem and then tries to find a public relations event to show it is "on the job."

One begins to sense a misdirection ploy and a typical government response to its own ineptness, when you cut through the rhetoric from the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the discredited Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and her leftist organization of scientists,

I am disappointed, too, that the Army has tried to avoid any comment on Dr. Hatfill. We aren't aware that the Army has made any attempt to protect Dr. Hatfill, rather it has run away as fast as it could. It is protecting its own interests in this.

I realize that by writing these words, the FBI may come after me as a "person of interest." Some of the same charges made in the media - and only in the media - by the FBI and its "informants" might be applied to this writer.

Many know that in the past 25 years I have spent thousands of hours in the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick. I am not and never have been a medical researcher, never claimed any biomedical credentials, but I spent long hours learning about anthrax in the historical writings from Fort Detrick's experts.

One could say, as they have about Dr. Hatfill, that Norm Covert had access to anthrax. Dr. Hatfill was in one suite conducting research with dangerous viruses and the research samples (minute amounts) of wet anthrax were just down the hall in another secure research suite, where they were working to improve the current vaccine.

I've been just outside the anthrax suites and the vault holding research samples on hundreds of occasions. Using the same logic portrayed in the media about Dr. Hatfill, I had access to anthrax. But I was never dumb enough to attempt to get my hands on live agents.

When I first arrived at Fort Detrick in 1977, Col. Richard Barquist, then the USAMRIID commander, told me that a biological hazard warning on a door is not a wet paint sign. I took the lesson to heart and determined that I would not test such warnings.

I have never been in a "hot" lab, but I've inspected research animal holding areas and looked through the viewing windows of "hot suites" many times. I have seen petri dishes and a variety of containers, which were said to contain any one of several highly dangerous organisms.

I have explained exhaustively to the media what it takes to manufacture weapons grade, dried anthrax and how to disseminate it. It's a lot like being a teacher, those who can do, those who can't teach.

As the Army spokesman at Fort Detrick, It was imperative that I learn as much as I could about all aspects of the defensive biological research and biowarfare/bioterrorism. I learned from the world's experts, including Dr. Barquist, his successors including Dr. David Huxsall, Dr. David Franz and such other luminaries in science as Dr. Joseph Jemski, Dr. Riley Housewright, Dr. William C. Patrick III, Dr. George Lewis and many others.

These world-renowned scientists taught me what I needed to know about Bacillus anthracis, botulinum, Ebola/Marburg, Q Fever, and Korean Hemorrhagic Fever to name just a few deadly biological warfare candidate organisms. Unfortunately the FBI has taken a long time to learn enough to ask the right questions.

Since the anthrax mailings last fall, the media has unashamedly called for my opinions and guidance and I have not been afraid to tell them. For several months, I have said, Dr. Hatfill was a short-termer at USAMRIID. I never had any interaction with Dr. Hatfill, but he was part of the team working on the puzzling Ebola/Marburg scourge in Africa.

Most of the media still do not understand that there is a difference in a bacteriologist and a virologist. It is two different specialties. Ebola/Marburg is a Filovirus; anthrax is a bacterium.

I determined early on in my career as public affairs officer at Fort Detrick that there was no need for me to be inoculated in the series of immunizations required by employees who are determined to be at risk. I trusted the safety barriers in USAMRIID and during an incident, I would be across the street, nowhere near any biohazard. I would communicate by radio with those at the scene who were protected.

Dr. Hatfill, who may have undergone at least part of the series of inoculations prior to starting his limited work at USAMRIID, says he has no immunity to anthrax, especially not last fall when the anthrax mailer would have been stupid not to have built up an immunity. He or she would have been in danger just mailing the letters.

It takes a series of inoculations over an 18-month period to develop an immunity to anthrax. Dr. Hatfill was only assigned to USAMRIID less than two years, not enough time.

It was great to see Dr. Hatfill dispute the FBI by showing his time sheets from SAIC that verified he was in Northern Virginia when the letters were mailed in Trenton, N.J. The blood tests will verify the "titers" in his blood against a variety of diseases, and add one more black mark on the Justice Department's failed efforts.

If any suggestion came from this writer, it would be to investigate Dr. Rosenberg, who is affiliated with a variety of leftist scientists, many of whom had access to anthrax. The FBI might also reopen its case against the Yale scientist who had samples of anthrax in his refrigerator four months ago. What did the FBI do? They told him to destroy it and get on with his life. So much for that person of disinterest.

As for Dr. Hatfill, it is our hope that Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department and the FBI will apologize to him, that the courts will grant him financial relief for the loss of income and hit the agencies with a punitive charge for character assassination. It would follow on the heels of the Richard Jewell case in Atlanta where the FBI wrongly hounded Mr. Jewell, saying he was the Olympic Games "bomber."

As for the media, especially the New York Times and Newsweek, their teams of discredited investigative reporters should pounce on Dr. Rosenberg and follow up on the American Type Culture Collection and its customers around the world. In addition the media should vigorously pursue the Iraq connection, plus the Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egyptian links in this vicious terrorist attack.

Politically correct investigations serve no purpose. We The People need to insist that we stop being velvet gloved with those foreign governments and the internal U.S. organizations that would have us in such chaos that freedom and self-government go down the tubes.

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