WASHINGTON -- CIA laboratories were not the source of the deadly anthrax bacteria mailed to Capitol Hill, a Central Intelligence Agency spokesman said Sunday.
"The anthrax contained in the letters under investigation absolutely did not come from CIA labs," the spokesman, Mark Mansfield, said in response to a report that investigators were focusing on whether spores used in the anthrax attacks may have come from a domestic bioweapon research program, including one conducted by the CIA.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that genetic tests of the spores in the anthrax-laced letters mailed to Capitol Hill were identical to stocks maintained by a U.S. Army research program at Ft. Detrick, Md. Anthrax-contaminated letters, postmarked from Trenton, N.J., on Oct. 9 were mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). Anthrax letters also were sent to three media outlets.
Five people have died and 13 have been infected with anthrax since October.
The Washington Post said the FBI investigation into the anthrax attacks was increasingly focusing on whether U.S. government bioweapon research programs may have been the source of the deadly bacteria. The report quoted one source as saying the FBI was focusing on a contractor that worked for the CIA.
Law enforcement officials have said the anthrax used in the mail attacks is a type known as the Ames strain. While the CIA has had small amounts of the Ames strain bacteria in the laboratory to compare and contrast with other strains, "we did not grow, create or produce the Ames strain of the anthrax virus," Mansfield said.
"One of our missions is to learn about potential biological warfare threats and our work in this regard is entirely defensive in nature and consistent with U.S. treaty obligations," he said.
On Capitol Hill on Sunday, technicians began fumigating part of the ventilation system in the Hart Senate Office Building in an attempt to kill the anthrax spores remaining in the building.
On Sunday night, Environmental Protection Agency officials and private contractors started pumping chlorine dioxide gas into the building's ventilation system in an effort to kill the spores from the bioterrorist attack that has killed two District of Columbia postal workers and sickened three other people.
Authorities said they expected the fumigation operation at Hart--the second one at the building in just over two weeks--to be completed this morning.
Authorities had hoped to begin the fumigation effort Friday night, but workers were unable to bring the building's humidity up to the necessary level--75%--to begin the work. Finally, after two days of pumping steam into the building and doing other things to raise the humidity, workers were able to begin their work Sunday.
The work crews are "overworked and tired," said Richard Rupert, the EPA's on-site coordinator.
Even if the cleanup goes well, Lt. Dan Nichols, spokesman for the Capitol Police, said he could not give an opening date for the Hart building, where the Capitol Hill anthrax attacks began Oct. 15 when an aide to Daschle opened a tainted letter. The building was closed two days later.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times