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Skilled Technician Behind Anthrax Attacks, New CDC Director Believes

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2002 – Whoever unleashed the anthrax assaults that killed five people last year is most likely a trained biomedical technician.

That's the belief of the new chief of the U.S. agency responsible for national medical preparedness for biological, chemical and nuclear terrorist attacks.

Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, recently appointed as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told a homeland security conference audience here today that everything changed regarding homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist-hijacked airliner attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

She also pointed out the still unsolved anthrax attacks that began Sept. 18 last year highlighted the nation's vulnerability to yet another potential terrorist weapon: bio-terrorism.

Last year, as acting director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, Gerberding played a key role in orchestrating her agency's response to the Sept. 18-Dec. 8 postal-system-launched anthrax attacks in New Jersey, New York City, Florida, Maryland, Connecticut and the District of Columbia that infected 22 people and killed five.

That the FBI hasn't yet caught the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks isn't surprising, she noted.

"I think it is a huge challenge -- in part, because it's (like) looking for a needle in a haystack," the infectious disease clinician explained.

Whoever launched the anthrax attacks possesses "incredible, sophisticated knowledge about what they are dealing with," she continued. "They had to protect not only themselves, but the people in their environs from exposure to the powders, which basically function as a gas."

Gerberding added that the method in which the anthrax attacks were carried out indicates intricate planning and a level of sophistication that suggests the culprit's "not somebody who went in their garage and cooked this up over the weekend."

Since last year's hijacker and anthrax terror attacks, she noted, more than $900 million has been disbursed through CDC and other U.S. agencies to state and local organizations for homeland security-related missions.

The recent creation of the Department of Homeland Security, she pointed out, should also enhance coordination, communication and planning of national anti- terrorism efforts. In fact, she said, CDC and other agencies are now working to develop a national distribution system for the smallpox vaccine.

However, more remains to be done, especially when the perpetrator or perpetrators of the anthrax attacks are at large, she emphasized.

"We haven't caught these people and that tells me that the alertness and the level of vigilance that has to go on in emergency departments throughout the country has not changed," Gerberding said.

She noted that 12 letters "almost shut down the U.S. Postal system" during the anthrax threat.

"It wouldn't take many more (such) letters to really create an enormous catastrophe. Our best defense is to find the (perpetrator of the) first (anthrax) case," she concluded.

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