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I’ve been carefully following the story of Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks, especially after recently reading The Demon in the Freezer.

Richard Preston’s book was scary enough. But, to discover that one of our country’s own scientists, with no training in bioweapons preparation could singly produce and distribute a weapons-grade anthrax powder–at our own Fort Detrick no less–is enough to make you want to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus to bed.

Of course, Ivins committed suicide, so no trial is forthcoming. The FBI needs to complete a thorough analysis of all evidence to determine if their suspicions are correct. After all, they previously targeted another Ft. Detrick employee, Steven Hatfill, who recently won a $5.82 million lawsuit against the government for ruining his career and invading his privacy.

Most of the evidence against Ivins is circumstantial, including testimony of his therapist that indicated he was homicidal. Which begs the question of how an unstable, homicidal man is allowed to work in a Biosafety Level 4 government biodefense lab.

After a complete analysis, if evidence against Ivins is insufficient his name should be cleared and the case should remain open.

If Ivins is confirmed as the attacker, well, that means we’re all pretty vulnerable. His was a brilliant scientist, but his career with the government was in vaccine development, not bioterror. Is it that easy for one person, working alone to create a pathogenic weapon?

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The Demon in the Freezer:  A True Story is exactly that–a true story–which makes it especially terrifying.  Author Richard Preston, who also wrote The Hot Zone and a novel calledThe Cobra Event could not have written a scarier tale if he was trying to pen a horror story.

The story begins in Boca Raton, where a man named Robert Stevens began feeling ill on October 2, 2001–and died of inhalation anthrax on October 5th.  As it turns out, this was the beginning of the anthrax threat that was never solved.  The anthrax was military grade . . . weapons grade material.

The tale turns to the smallpox virus, variola, eradicated in December, 1979.  Though smallpox no longer existed in nature, it still lived in freezers at two locations–the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, and in Vector, Siberia’s Maximum Containment Laboratory

Preston is not only an excellent writer, but he does his homework.  The Demon in the Freezer is based on numerous interviews with health experts, researchers, and U.S. Intelligence agents.  Frighteningly, variola was brought back to life on both continents–in the U.S., to develop improved vaccines, and in Russia, to develop a biological weapon. 

Contention rages among scientists, some of whom believe smallpox should be eliminated from the face of the earth and others who believe we need to keep some on hand for vaccine development and research. 

Smallpox is the most dreadful disease, making even ebola look like a walk in the park.  To think the virus could get in the wrong hands . . . let’s just not think about it. 

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