Anthrax, FBI, Scientist discussed on HISTORY This Week

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Was one of those minutes. Then, in mid October there's the attack at the Senate building. About a week later to postal workers die in two days after being exposed to the spores and the country goes into full anthrax panic mode. When this became a news site on the seven Clark five o'clock news reported in newspapers. ABAND- side of human nature came out and people began mailing what we called white powder hoax. Take powder dumping it in April. In Mail it to business they just got fired from. Or somewhere accidental a janitor spilling some cleaning powder not sweet ended up before he went home from work. All of a sudden we'd have an anthrax coal. October November of a one I estimate we had fifty thousand of these each month. Fifty thousand each month. Yes. We could not collect them all as evidence there were too many. The fire departments carry bleach on the truck and just dump them in a bucket of dilute bleach. It was just overwhelming we were overwhelmed. What saved their bacon. Term I can use definitely will save their bacon was the network of laboratories. In the late nineties, the FBI had realized. They might someday need local labs around the country to help them test biological weapons. So those labs were ready. And now they're working overtime, but these leads are leading nowhere. It's around this time early November of two thousand one that Scott Decker moves from desk duty to the anthrax investigation. Remember, he has a background in science and he gets assigned to supervise a special science team. I have a squad of special agents. And all of them had advanced degrees in science. I believe it's the first time. The bureau has ever put together a group like that because it's becoming clear that the FBI is need to use new scientific methods to help them get some traction in this investigation, they're running into problems even when they try to do the most basic detective work. We couldn't look for fingerprints until we neutralize the entrance exports right track 'cause you couldn't just go touching those envelopes. If you touch some, you're GONNA get real sick possibly dying. So he ended up deciding to irradiate the envelopes but we had validate that irradiation. Didn't fact kill every score? So set of experiments had to be done before we could do the forensics semination. That's how the whole case let. We would come up with a new technique. We would have to validate it before we could put it into play. The irradiation works but no fingerprints on the envelopes. Decker in his squad have to start thinking about a new kind of forensics microbial forensics. Basically they have to get clues from the bacteria itself. To find whatever the bacteria might be hiding the I need to read it. And the way you read something like bacteria is to sequence. It's DNA. But at that time the end of o-on beginning of out to. The scientific. Community had never sequenced facilitator three. In its entirety. Never been done, but there was a lab in Maryland run by a scientist named Dr Clare Frazier Legat and they were really at the cutting edge of DNA sequence in two thousand one. They had sequenced I believe. To bacteria they knew it could be forensically important more likely in public health resident crimefighting. So now, the FBI to this lab and says. We need your help with fighting. We need to sequence DNA of the spores we found in these letters. The lab says. Yes. It'll take some time, but we can figure it out. The agents already know that this anthrax is a strain called aims. which is one of if not the deadliest strain of Bacillus racists. So, what they're looking for is any mutation a change in the genetic code, a sort of fingerprint that could help the FBI traced the bacteria's origins, find the aims, spores, and therefore the lab that was used to make this specific powder. Which means the agents need to collect all the Ames samples they can find. They go around to labs and eventually. We had over a thousand collected samples from around the country in the world. We knew that if we could be successful in this area, we might crack the case. Or we could develop evidence to support another crack. In the case, the science will be an integral part of the investigation, but they're still doing their regular detective work to. In October, the FBI had put together a profile of their potential suspect criminal minds style. Instead it was what they call a lone wolf. An individual. Working by himself non-confrontational. Highly Skilled and science. Also probably American. Because of some clues in the letters themselves. They were written to suggest an international threat, the one to Tom Brokaw read. In eleven o one this is next take penicillin. Now, death to America Death to Israel Allah is Great. But pretty quickly the investigators realize the deeds structure is American month I may. And it's also strange that Allah is great is written in English not an Arabic so they think they're looking domestically. And probably for a scientist. The Ames strain was a popular research strain in it was used in academic in military laboratories for Vaccine Research, an anthrax research. So it was very well thought that it probably came from a scientist to win very mo may no he said those strange head space to be in going to work every day thinking very likely somebody billions done this. They've killed on purpose gonNA probably do it again. Today's episode is supported by traditional medicinal 's created by herbalists. They make organic teas like throat, Coat Cup of calm or lemon ginger, traditional medicinal use high quality herbs that are based on centuries old herbal traditions as the fall and winter set in. You can cozy up with a warm cup of tea that also supports your overall wellbeing sustainably sourced from around the world. You'll feel good enjoying this pepperidge to check these out visit traditional medicinal dot com, and use Code History Twenty for twenty percent off your purchase. Today's episode is supported by Nord Vpn which gives you secure and private access to the Internet. Our producer.

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