Army base tied to anthrax mail attacks a month after news crew’s report

Military Technology

The FBI confirms agents are investigating a possible link between a U.S. Army lab in Utah and the anthrax spores that killed five people and was sent to members of Congress shortly after 9/11. Investigative journalist George Knapp previously reported the possibility of deadly pathogens being stored at a military base in Dugway, Utah. Aired in December 2001 on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.

Stories about anthrax at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah made national news around the country in December 2001, but the Channel 8 I-Team reported about this possible connection a month earlier. 

The FBI is zeroing in on the source of the anthrax that’s been mailed out across the country and it’s possible that the Army base at Dugway, Utah, is involved in some way. In November 2001, investigative journalist George Knapp and photojournalist Matt Adams were detained twice and were threatened with arrest while trying to get video of the Dugway facilities.

Signs outside Dugway Proving Ground warn people to stay off the facility. (KLAS-TV)

Military watchdogs say it’s been tough over the years getting a straight story out of the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. The sprawling Utah facility has been home to open-air testing of the worst poisons known to man. In the late ‘60s, thousands of sheep around the base died horrible deaths after being exposed to nerve agents. For 30 years, the Army denied any involvement, even after it had paid off the ranchers.

Inside the secret labs at Dugway is a deep freeze treasure trove of deadly agents dubbed Pandora’s icebox.

We asked military watchdog Steve Erickson what was kept at the Dugway Proving Ground.

Knapp: “Anthrax out there?”

Erickson: “Yes.”

Knapp: “Black Plague?”

Erickson: “The plague? Yes. Many others. Q fever, lots of fever … there’s a potpourri of pathogens.” 

A still frame from video shows a writhing sheep that was exposed to a nerve agent near Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. (KLAS-TV)

The FBI confirms that its agents were inside Dugway interviewing Army scientists about their stash of anthrax. The army has now admitted that, contrary to earlier statements, it made anthrax at Dugway, including weapons grade anthrax milled into a fine powder. The substance is virtually identical to that which was sent to members of Congress. A comparison of Dugway anthrax to that in the congressional letters found 50 out of 50 identical genetic markers.

And the FBI now knows Dugway has frequently transported its anthrax to other facilities around the country, so many other people could have gained access to it. The Army says all the anthrax at Dugway is accounted for. But those most familiar with the base have reason to be skeptical.

Steve Erickson is a military watchdog who says facilities like Dugway Proving Ground in Utah should not be allowed to operate in absolute secrecy. (KLAS-TV)

“Dugway’s assured us over the years that they do not manufacture, produce pathogens, like anthrax and others,” Erickson said. “And now this looks pretty contradictory, that in fact, they have been culturing anthrax for their own use. I think in the end, it’s critical that there be some sort of independent oversight of facilities like this that can’t be simply allowed to operate in complete secrecy,” Erickson said.

The FBI said it will be at Dugway, “for a while,” but the feds emphasize they’re also looking at other American labs that might have had access to anthrax.

A sign at the entrance to Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. (KLAS-TV)

The production of weapons grade anthrax at an Army lab is a huge issue for another reason as well. At face value it seems to come very close to violating international treaties that ban the production of such agents. The U.S. was a signatory to those treaties.

The Washington Post says it has obtained records showing discrepancies between what Dugway shipped out and what it got back.

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