16 Years and Billions Later…

Written by Adam English
Posted August 8, 2017 at 8:31PM

Nearly 16 years ago, and just a week after the 9/11 attacks, one of what would become the largest and most complex investigations in the history of law enforcement was set in motion.

It all started with five letters, sent to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post and the National Enquirer.

Only two of the letters were found. The other three were obviously sent because people started dying.

Two more letters were sent three weeks after the first batch, addressed to Senators Daschle of South Dakota and Leahy of Vermont.

At least 22 people developed anthrax infections. And five died.

Hundreds of FBI personnel worked the case over time. Authorities traveled to six continents, interviewed nearly 10,000 people, conducted 67 searches, and issued over 6,000 subpoenas.

It took seven years to pin the blame on a suspect after multiple false accusations, and even then it was never definitively proven. The man, a biodefense researcher, committed suicide before being indicted.

And it kicked off billions and billions of dollars of spending. $5.6 billion was spent over 10 years for the purchase of new vaccines and drugs alone, while a massive expansion of biowarfare-related funding for detection was allocated as well.

Thankfully, this part of the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks is largely forgotten. The fear of a new and sustained wave of attacks never happened.

However, the threat never subsided, and the projects it set in motion are just now starting to come to the market.

The Quest for Rapid Detection

A fundamental problem with biowarfare is how to figure out what you’re dealing with in time to do something about it.

The problems are legion, but it all comes down to reaction time and accuracy.

In the case of anthrax, the symptoms can take a long time to manifest, all while the person becomes contagious.

For example, the first person to die from the 2001 anthrax letter attacks checked into a Florida hospital on October 1st, about two weeks after exposure.

In that amount of time, letters could have circulated the globe, if the killer had the means or inclination.

Then there is figuring out what exactly you’re dealing with. Doctors thought the first victim had meningitis, and it took confirmation by the CDC to figure out what happened.

Needless to say, that did nothing to help the other victims of the attack, nor would it have put an end to the attacks if they continued unabated.

This has made the quest for any kind of testing system incredibly difficult. Testing had to go from taking days or weeks to just hours, and go from being limited to labs with highly trained technicians to something everyday people and first-responders can use.

After over a decade-and-a-half, one system that can finally get this job done is emerging from an infamous national laboratory.

Deployment

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been working on airborne detection of pathogens for years now.

And one trailblazing scientist holds all the patents behind these devices.

More than $20 million in government funding has gone into four generations of the technology, coming from the Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Homeland Security, and National Institutes of Health.

The first versions are already being used as early warning systems for terrorist attacks in cities around the country. One of them monitors air quality in New York’s Penn Station, for example.

With just a small airborne sample, the latest, fourth-generation system can be operated by anyone and produce results in just an hour.

The technology is so potent that it can handle just about any kind of biological pathogen, and other governmental agencies have taken notice.

In fact, the FDA is poised to require that these kinds of devices are installed nationwide, protecting us from all forms of deadly pathogens.

It took 16 years, and billions of dollars of funding, but we’re finally able to detect and rapidly respond to the kind of biological threats Americans face from terrorism, and on a daily basis from everything from the flu to foodborne pathogens.

And thanks to the scientist who holds all the patents, just one company can provide them to everyone from government agencies, to food supply chains, to transportation lines.

The FDA alone is going to kick off a $20 billion market for these devices, and that is just the start.

Take care,

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Adam English

follow basic @AdamEnglishOC on Twitter

Adam's editorial talents and analysis drew the attention of senior editors at Outsider Club, which he joined in mid-2012. While he has acquired years of hands-on experience in the editorial room by working side by side with ex-brokers, options floor traders, and financial advisors, he is acutely aware of the challenges faced by retail investors after starting at the ground floor in the financial publishing field. For more on Adam, check out his editor's page

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