FBI probes possibility anthrax was smuggled out of Fort Detrick, Maryland

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) _ The FBI is investigating the possibility that someone secretly grew the deadly anthrax mailed to politicians and media outlets last fall at an Army laboratory in Maryland and further refined it at home, a government source and a scientist said.

The theory that anthrax was smuggled out of the biological warfare defense lab at Fort Detrick is one of several under consideration by the FBI, but none has been assigned more prominence than the others, a U.S. law enforcement official said Thursday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated that no arrests were imminent and that authorities remain largely frustrated in the lack of progress in their investigation.

Two FBI agents explored the smuggling theory during a three-hour interview Wednesday with Luann Battersby, a microbiologist who worked at the lab at Fort Detrick for eight years, Battersby said. The smuggling theory was first reported Thursday by The Hartford Courant.

Battersby, who left the Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick voluntarily in 1998, said the agents asked her, ``if I wanted to grow something I wasn't supposed to, would there be somebody asking me about it and could I have taken it out of the lab? I told them no one checked, and it was far easier to get something out of Fort Detrick than into it.''

While speculating how a terrorist might have obtained anthrax as virulent and finely milled as that used in the mailings that killed five people, ``We came to the conclusion the source is really important,'' Battersby said. ``It really is difficult to develop an organism from one you haven't cultured.''

Fort Detrick officials have said lab security was enhanced after the anthrax attacks. Charles Dasey, a post spokesman, said the theory that the anthrax came from Fort Detrick was ``just more speculation.''