NEW YORK (AP) -- The CIA looked into rumors that the recent
encephalitis outbreak was the work of terrorists and concluded it
wasn't, an agency official said today.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there's
no evidence Iraq or any other foreign government was involved in
the outbreak. The CIA "looked into rumors which appeared in
British media and elsewhere," the official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
City officials also downplayed any suggestions of bioterrorism.
"Nothing indicates that this was anything other than a natural
outbreak," Jerome Hauer, the director of the city's emergency
management office, said Sunday.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said
there was no evidence to suggest the recent outbreak was anything
other than "Mother Nature at work."
Analysts at the CIA who deal with biological weapons said an
Iraqi defector had claimed in April that Saddam Hussein was
developing a strain of West Nile-like encephalitis for use as a
biological weapon, The New Yorker reported in its Oct. 18-25 double
issue that hit newsstands today.
The report recalled by the analysts was published April 6 in the
Daily Mail of London. It was an except from the book "In the
Shadow of Saddam," written by Mikhael Ramadan.
Ramadan claimed that he worked as one of Hussein's body doubles
and that Hussein had told him of a plan to develop a strain of West
Nile encephalitis that would kill 97 percent of people in an urban
environment. The magazine said Ramadan was believed to be hiding
somewhere in Canada or the United States.
A strain of a West Nile-like virus has claimed the lives of six
people in the New York area since it was discovered in early
September. The mosquito-borne virus has infected 54 people in the
New York metropolitan area.
Symptoms of the strain include fever and headache. In rare
cases, the virus can cause neurological disorders and death. The
elderly, young and those with weakened immune systems are most