Since the early 1990s, U.S. Army scientists at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah have made small quantities of weapons-grade anthrax that is virtually identical to the powdery spores used in the bioterrorist attacks that have killed five people, government sources say.
Until the anthrax attacks led to tighter security measures, anthrax grown at Dugway was regularly sent by FedEx to the Army’s biodefense center at Fort Detrick, Md.,where the bacteria were killed using gamma radiation before being returned to Dugway for experiments.
The anthrax was shipped in the form of a coarse paste, not in the far more dangerous finely milled form, according to one government official.
Most anthrax testing at Dugway is done using the killed spores to reduce the chance of accidental exposure of workers there. But live anthrax, milled to the tiny particle size expected on a battlefield, is needed for some testing, the sources say.
Dugway’s production of weapons-grade anthrax, which has never before been publicly revealed, is apparently the first by the U.S. government since President Nixon ordered the U.S. offensive biowarfare program closed in 1969. Scientists familiar with the anthrax program at Dugway described it to the Baltimore Sun on the condition that they not be named.
Dugway’s weapons-grade anthrax has been milled to achieve a concentration similar to that sent in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, according to a source. The strain found in those letters is indistinguishable from that used most often by Dugway.
No evidence linking the Dugway anthrax to the attacks has been made public, and there may well be none. Army officials say the anthrax has long been protected by multiple security measures.
The FBI has extensively questioned Dugway employees who have had access to anthrax and investigators are taking a hard look at the facility’s anthrax program, according to people familiar with the investigation.