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USA/Africa: Anthrax, History and Security
USA/Africa: Anthrax, History and Security
Date distributed (ymd): 020725
Document reposted by Africa Action
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africaaction.org
Issue Areas: +security/peace+ +US policy focus+ +health+
In the New York Times of July 2, columnist Nicholas Kristof
attacked FBI foot dragging in the investigation of last year's
anthrax attacks. In particular, Kristof pointed to the failure of
the FBI to fully investigate "Mr. Z," rumored within the biodefense
community to be a prime suspect. "If Mr Z. were an Arab national,
he would have been imprisoned long ago," Kristof commented. "Mr.
Z" is identified elsewhere in news stories and on the internet as
Steven J. Hatfill, an American bioterrorism specialist who is
reported to have served in the Rhodesian military in the 1970s.
This posting contains excerpts from two articles relevant to this
case and links to additional sources, preceded by a brief
background note and questions.
Summary Background Note
- The world's largest outbreak of human anthrax occurred in rural
Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1978-80 where 10,738 cases
were recorded and 182 people died. There is significant evidence
that this outbreak was the result of covert action by Rhodesian
security forces, with the assistance of South African specialists
in biological warfare.
- Dr. Wouter Basson, the man who headed South Africa's biological
warfare program, refused to testify before South Africa's Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, and was acquitted by a South African
judge in April 2002 on criminal charges of murder, conspiracy,
fraud, and drug possession, despite evidence presented by witnesses
in a trial which lasted more than two years. As a result, many
details of the South African and Rhodesia covert operations in this
period still remain obscure.
- Steven J. Hatfill, a biodefense specialist who was employed at
the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease at
Fort Detrick, Maryland from 1997 to 1999, and continues to work in
the biodefense field, has been among those questioned by the FBI in
connection with the anthrax attacks of 2001. However, critics say
the investigation has been lethargic. Hatfill, born in St. Louis
in 1953, reportedly served with the Rhodesian Special Air Squadron
(SAS) and Selous Scouts in the late 1970s, and attended medical
school and worked in Rhodesia and South Africa, returning to the
U.S. only in 1995. On July 1, Hatfill took up a new job as
associate director of Louisiana State University's National Center
for Biomedical Research and Training, and the Baltimore Sun
reported on July 18 that the FBI says he is not a suspect.
Whether or not Hatfill is fully cleared or does prove to be
implicated in the 2001 attacks, one must question both the previous
lack of U.S. government curiosity about his background and the
failure of the U.S. media to highlight the 1978-80 anthrax attacks
in Rhodesia as a precedent to current events. This history also
raises other specific questions. Among them:
(1) Has the FBI investigated whether Hatfill had any connection to
the 1978-80 anthrax outbreak in eastern Zimbabwe?
(2) What do other agencies of the U.S. government know about this
outbreak and related incidents in the counter-insurgency wars waged
by the white minority regimes in Southern Africa in the 1970s and
1980s? What did they know at the time?
(3) Who has moral and legal liability for the human damage caused
by these programs?
(4) Given the failure to date to expose this history to full
scrutiny, are there additional legal or official actions that could
be taken to facilitate the efforts of investigative journalists and
Other sources available on-line, in additional to those excerpted
David Martin, "Human Anthrax Scares were a Major Reality in
Southern Africa News Features
[note: headline on article in web version is incorrect]
Chapter 22, "Rhodesia, 1978" in
Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars. Macmillan, 2000.
Full text of chapter available on line at:
Additional related news stories can be located by searching under
"Steven Hatfill" at http://www.google.com
Who is Steven Hatfill? The FBI has searched a U.S. bio-warfare
scientist's apartment as part of its anthrax investigation.
Web Exclusive 6/27/2002
[brief excerpts only; full text at:
FBI agents investigating last fall's anthrax attacks searched the
Frederick, Maryland, apartment of Steven J. Hatfill, a former U.S.
government bio-defense scientist, this past Tuesday. Hatfill is not
a suspect in the anthrax case, the FBI says. Rather,
law-enforcement officials have told The Associated Press that
Hatfill consented to the search in order to clear his name, which
The New York Times reports has been much mentioned on Web sites
frequented by scientists, journalists, and others who've taken an
interest in the anthrax investigation.
Tuesday's search of Hatfill's home by the FBI was reportedly not
the first time the bureau has had contact with him in the course of
its ongoing investigation. Sources close to the investigation say
that he had been questioned on four previous occasions by FBI
investigators, and that he'd been given, and passed, a polygraph
exam. These sources also say that Hatfill has always been very
cooperative with the bureau.
Who is Steven Hatfill? The Prospect has spoken with dozens of
biowarfare scientists, other government contractors who work in
bio-defense, former medical school associates and colleagues, and
sources close to the FBI investigation to get a clearer picture of
the Maryland scientist. Hatfill belongs to a small pool of people
who have access to and detailed knowledge of how to grow and
weaponize the highly lethal, concentrated dry powder spores of
anthrax that were sent in letters to media personalities and
members of Congress last October. Specifically, by virtue of his
government contracts, Hatfill had access to the U.S. Army Medical
Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Frederick,
Maryland, up until early March. As one of a handful of places in
the country where scientists grow the most lethal germs in order to
develop vaccines to defend against them, USAMRIID and its Utah
cousin, Dugway Proving Grounds, have been at the center of the
eight-month-old FBI investigation. Last month, genetic analysis of
the letter-anthrax suggested that it was indistinguishable from a
strain developed at USAMRIID.
Hatfill, who was employed as an Ebola researcher at USAMRIID from
1997 to 1999, has since worked as a government contractor who
specializes in training U.S. Special Forces, embassy employees,
emergency workers, and other government officials to respond to
biological attacks. Today, Hatfill continues to perform bio-defense
training work, to which his colleagues say he is passionately
Hatfill's longer biography is riddled with gaps where classified
projects presumably belong. The son of a thoroughbred horse
breeder, Hatfill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1953, then
raised in Illinois. He studied biology at small Southwestern
College in Kansas, taking a year off midway through to work with a
Methodist doctor in Zaire. He graduated in 1975, married in 1976,
had a daughter, and got divorced in 1978. From 1975 to 1978, he
served with the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance, based
at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, while simultaneously, his resume
says, serving in the Special Air Squadron (SAS) of the white
supremacist regime in Rhodesia. He attended medical school in
Rhodesia from 1978 to 1984, and then moved to South Africa, where
he completed various military-medical assignments while obtaining
three master's degrees, studying for a doctoral degree, and
practicing in a South African clinic.
"After graduating from Southwestern College," he wrote his alumni
newsletter, "Hatfill received a medical degree from the Godfrey
Huggins School of Medicine in Rhodesia, with board certification in
hematological pathology from South Africa. The South African
government recruited him to be a medical officer on a one-year tour
of duty in Antarctica, and he completed a post-doctoral fellowship
at Oxford University in England. His military background includes
the United States Army's Institute for Military Assistance, the
Rhodesian SAS, and Selous Scouts [Rhodesian counterinsurgency
There is something curious about Hatfill's claim, on his resume, to
have worked concurrently with the U.S. Army Institute for Military
Assistance in Fort Bragg and with the Rhodesian Special Air
Squadron. Indeed, several of his associates have told the Prospect
that Hatfill bragged of having been a double agent in South Africa
-- which raises some intriguing questions. Was the U.S. military
biowarfare program willing to hire and give sensitive security
clearances to someone who had served in the apartheid-era South
African military medical corps, and with white-led Rhodesian
paramilitary units in Zimbabwe's civil war two decades earlier? Or
did Hatfill serve in the Rhodesian SAS, and later in the South
African military medical corps, at the behest of the U.S.
Indeed, Hatfill has been offering the press warnings about
bioterror-attack scenarios for several years. [see article
on web for details]
In all his appearances in The Washington Times, Insight, and other
print sources, Hatfill stressed a single, consistent message: The
United States is woefully under-prepared for an inevitable
biological terrorism scenario. It's a sentiment shared by many of
Hatfill's colleagues in the U.S. bio-defense community -- in
particular, William C. Patrick, one of the founders of the U.S.
biological weapons program. ...
In January 1999, Hatfill went to work for Scientific Applications
International Corporation (SAIC), a large defense contractor. As a
specialist in biological defenses working on contract for various
government agencies, Hatfill continued to have access to the Fort
Detrick lab; the Army's chemical weapons defense testing facility
in Edgewood, Maryland; Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah; and other
government labs and military facilities depending on his
... Why did he lose his clearance [in August 2001]? One military
official recounts the story he says Hatfill told him. In this
telling, the difficulties began last summer, when Hatfill allegedly
applied for a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information
(TS/SCI) security clearance in order to bid for a top-secret
contract with a government agency, perhaps the CIA.
To qualify for this clearance, he was reportedly required to take
a polygraph test. Hatfill allegedly told the military official that
he failed the polygraph on questions concerning his activities in
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The people conducting the polygraph were
amateurs, Hatfill allegedly complained to his interlocutor; they
couldn't understand what Cold Warriors like himself had to do in
Rhodesia. The military official recalls Hatfill as saying that his
father-in-law had been killed by rebels in Rhodesia, and that he
had consequently undertaken some actions that caused concern when
he was given his polygraph test.
Hatfill has appealed the loss of his security clearance in a
process that is pending. ...
Anthrax Epizootic in Zimbabwe, 1978-1980: Due to Deliberate Spread?
Meryl Nass, M.D.*
N* Dr. Nass, at the time of publication, was affiliated with Wing
Memorial Hospital, Palmer, Massachusetts and the Department of
Internal Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School,
Worcester, MA USA. Her continued work on anthrax is available at
her web site http://www.anthraxvaccine.org
Physicians for Social Responsibility Quarterly 1992: 2-198-209
[Brief excerpts only in this posting. Full version, with footnotes,
The largest recorded outbreak of anthrax among humans, and possibly
the largest among animals, occurred over a decade ago in Zimbabwe,
formerly Rhodesia, during the time of its civil war . The
outbreak was reported in a series of articles by J. C. A. Davies
and others [from 1980-1985] in the Central African Journal of
Medicine [2-8]. Little was written about it outside of Africa. Over
10,000 human cases and 182 human deaths were documented . Human
cases were secondary to an unprecedented outbreak in cattle [5,10].
Unusual Features of the Epizootic
There were a number of surprising aspects of this epizootic. First,
the large number of cases was unusual. Ten thousand seven hundred
thirty-eight human cases were documented in Zimbabwe from January
1979 through December 1980 . According to Mandell's Principles
and Practice of Infectious Disease, published in 1979, "about 7,000
cases are reported in the world annually" .The large number of
human cases was particularly unusual in light of the historically
low prevalence of anthrax in Zimbabwe . In the 29-year period
preceding the epidemic (1950-1978), the period for which records
are available, a total of 334 human cases were reported in
Zimbabwe. By comparison, during the same period (1950-1978) in the
United States, 459 human cases were reported . Clearly, anthrax
was a rare disease in both countries. ... Yet during the war,
anthrax became one of the country's major causes of hospital
Second, the geographic scope of this outbreak was highly unusual
for anthrax. Most outbreaks are characterized by a high degree of
focality . Cases occur in limited areas only. Yet in Zimbabwe
from 1978 to 1980, the disease spread from area to area, until six
of the eight provinces were affected . ...
Humans generally acquire the infection by handling meat or other
products from infected animals. Butchering, preparing, and eating
meat from an animal infected with anthrax are frequent causes of
the disease in humans and accounted for many cases in Zimbabwe. ...
Many of the Zimbabwe cases occurred in areas where anthrax had not
been recorded before. Yet in the rest of the world, epizootics
generally occur in areas that are known to have produced anthrax
outbreaks in the past, where there is assumed to be low-density
contamination of the soil. ...
Fourth, the epizootic was almost entirely confined to the Tribal
Trust Lands. These were areas that had been assigned to Zimbabwe's
blacks when the country was divided into distinct areas for black
and white habitation by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930. ... By
the end of 1979, one-third of Tribal Trust Lands were affected with
anthrax, approximately 17% of the land area of the country .
Davies noted that "the commercial (white-owned) farming areas
appear to have been almost completely spared" . ...
Fifth, the timing of the epizootic coincided with the final months
of a long and particularly brutal guerrilla war. Some guerrilla
activity had begun in the late 1960s, but the war did not escalate
significantly until the mid 1970s. The war ended in late February
1980, when elections were held, and ZANU and ZAPU, the parties
affiliated with the two guerrilla armies, won an overwhelming
Human anthrax case reports by month are available for the provinces
of Matabeleland, Midlands, and Mashonaland . In Matabeleland and
Midlands, cases peaked in November and December 1979, respectively,
and decreased thereafter. In Mashonaland, there were two peaks, the
first in February 1980 and a second in December 1980. After the war
ended in late February 1980, only sporadic cases were seen in
previously unaffected areas, and there appeared to be no further
geographic spread of the epizootic. However, anthrax has remained
enzootic in Zimbabwe since the war ended, a not surprising finding,
given the persistence of the spores in nature.
Weighing all available evidence, it is suggested here that a
plausible explanation for the sudden peak of anthrax in the Tribal
Trust Lands beginning in November, 1978, is that one or more units
attached to the Rhodesian military may have air dropped anthrax
spores in these territories. This action would expose cattle to the
disease through ingestion or inhalation (or both) of anthrax
spores. Humans would have acquired the disease from meat or meat
Chemical and Poison Weapons
Was there a parallel, well-documented use of other weapons
considered abhorrent during the conflict and a willingness to
overlook civilian casualties? In his memoirs, Flower admits to the
deliberate distribution of poisoned clothing, which killed hundreds
of black guerrillas . Yet clothing can be worn by anyone.
Organophosphate poisoning from tainted clothing affected civilians
as well, and poisoning by this means became documented in the
Zimbabwe medical literature [69,70].
Dr. Paul Epstein, an American physician practicing in Mozambique
for the Ministry of Health, with support from the American Friends
Service Committee in 1978, treated large numbers of Zimbabweans,
who had arrived from ZANLA training camps, for a bleeding disorder.
Initially a viral hemorrhagic fever was suspected. But there were
many deaths despite treatment. Eventually a fat biopsy was obtained
and sent for toxin analysis; this analysis revealed the presence of
warfarin . Thus another unconventional mode of warfare,
warfarin poisoning, may have been employed by some within the
Rhodesian military. ...
A case has been made for the possible deliberate use of anthrax as
an agent of biological warfare, directed at African-owned cattle,
in the final months of the Zimbabwe civil conflict.
The characteristics of Zimbabwe's anthrax epizootic are unusual.
Outside Zimbabwe, outbreaks of animal anthrax have remained
confined to enzootic areas or could be traced to contaminated
animal products and have been generally self-limited. Zimbabwe's
epizootic did not conform to this expected behavior, and the
arguments put forward to explain it are unconvincing.
A military role for anthrax can be postulated, given the strategic
control of food and other resources that existed at the time.
Deliberate impoverishment of rural blacks may conceivably have been
a strategy as well. Desperate tactics appear to have been used by
the Rhodesian military elsewhere as the war drew to a close.
Finally, there have been recent reports attributed to confidential
eyewitnesses that support the theory of the deliberate spread of
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information
Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
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