The Anthrax manhunt.(EDITORIALS)

Article excerpt


Anthrax fears are still in the air, and no wonder. Despite the search of the home of a researcher from Fort Detrick, investigators are apparently nowhere close to finding out who sent the anthrax-laden letters that killed five persons and sickened at least 13 others last fall.

Beyond investigators' recent discovery that the finely ground Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks was no more than 3 years old, the facts are murky. Indeed, it is not even clear whether the individual(s) behind the mailings were foreigners or U.S. nationals.

FBI agents had been pursuing the latter theory, conducting thousands of interviews and giving polygraphs to hundreds of individuals who may have had access to the bacteria at either Fort Detrick or the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Authorities do not seem to know why the attacks stopped, leaving open the possibity that they will resume.

Things have not been much better at the local level. While the Hart Senate building has long been open, the doors still haven't reopened at the Brentwood postal processing center. That facility became emblematic of the faulty assumptions and failed communications that characterized the worst aspects of the nation's response. Two Brentwood postal employees died of inhalation anthrax after health officials failed to consider that anthrax could escape from sealed envelopes and, as a consequence, failed to prescribe appropriate antibiotics.

Brentwood still hasn't been decontaminated, and local officials still aren't communicating. …