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FBI draining Maryland pond in anthrax probe

From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

Workers drain a Maryland pond Monday as part of the FBI anthrax investigation.
Workers drain a Maryland pond Monday as part of the FBI anthrax investigation.

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The FBI is draining a pond near Fort Detrick, Maryland, as part of the investigation into the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, CNN's Kelli Arena reports (June 9)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI began draining a one-acre pond Monday in Frederick, Maryland, searching for evidence in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, the FBI and a city spokeswoman said.

FBI agents have returned to the site several times since the winter as part of their investigation.

"Based on extensive environmental testing already conducted, there is no indication of any threat to public health or safety associated with our search activities," said an FBI statement released Monday.

Some investigators said they believe the person behind the attacks might have dumped materials into the pond in the city's scenic Frederick Municipal Forest. There is also a theory the anthrax mailer might have packed the anthrax spores into envelopes under water.

Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty and Police Chief Kim Dine issued a joint statement saying the pond being drained is one of 10 ponds searched by divers this past winter.

CNN has reported that agents found a clear box with holes that investigators said could accommodate gloves to protect an individual from exposure to anthrax. Investigators also say vials were recovered.

The city statement identified the pond as 4 to 5 feet deep with a capacity of approximately 50,000 gallons. The water is being put in another pond in the park. The cost to drain the pond is estimated at about $250,000.

"This portion of the FBI investigation will last three to four weeks. The area will be fully restored by the FBI upon completion of the work in coordination with city officials," the statement said.

Anthrax-laced letters were sent in the fall of 2001 to the offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and to television network news offices in New York, and may have been sent to other places.

Five people -- two U.S. Postal Service employees in Washington, an employee at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, a 94-year-old woman in Oxford, Connecticut, and a New York hospital supply room worker -- died of exposure to anthrax.

No suspects have been named in the anthrax investigation and no arrests have been made.

Former Army bioterrorism researcher Dr. Stephen Hatfill -- who once worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland -- has been named a "person of interest" in the case by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Sources told CNN last year the strain of anthrax identified in the 2001 incidents was the same as that used in experiments at USAMRIID, the Army's biological warfare defense laboratory.

Hatfill once lived in an apartment next to Fort Detrick, which is eight to 10 miles from the pond being drained. Frederick is about 50 miles northwest of Washington.

Hatfill has steadfastly denied having any role in or any knowledge of the deadly anthrax mailings. A spokesman for Hatfill, Pat Clawson, said Monday that "Steve had nothing to do with this."

"Let them go drain the ponds," Clawson told CNN. "They are not going to find anything because Steve is not involved."

Clawson called on the FBI to either charge Hatfill or clear him and said of investigators, "if they want to [throw] away a quarter of a million dollars, be my guest."

CNN's Michael McManus contributed to this report.

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