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August 29, 2008

Norm Knows

Roy Meachum

Columns on the government's monumental faux pas in the Fort Detrick anthrax scandal have caused people to ask if the fort's research scientists, particularly Bruce Ivins, were friends or acquaintances. None is.


Although I must plead guilty to the friendship formed with a group of Russian molecular biologists working here for the National Cancer Institute. Several lived with me during their stints in Frederick; I welcomed their hospitality in four visits to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Their Fort Detrick lab closed last year. We stay in touch by email.


All this must be said for those who question my reasons in writing several columns that I hope threw doubts on pronouncements by the Department of Justice and the FBI. My motives were caring for the not-personally-known human beings affected and an old journalist's instincts that our government was simply not telling the truth.


Norm Covert knew facts and people; he served Fort Detrick and its scientific community for over 25 years, as press and public relations honcho. Put another way: He was Mr. Outside to all those men and women working inside, behind the armed military and police, fences and barbed wire.


In the course of going about his duties, Norm came to know the various people who performed experiments with some of the most volatile and dangerous substances in the world.


Most germane to this discussion: I never heard anyone who ever thought Mr. Covert was fudging the truth. He did not hesitate to declare some subjects off-limits; as a flack, he earned a reputation beyond reproach.


In these lights, readers should approach Wednesday's, if they had not read it before. (On your screen, roll down.) As lined up, one by one, his column ("White Powder and 007") lists many of the contradictions, inconsistencies and questionable "facts" we have been told from Washington.


Perhaps most damning of all is Norm's caustic salutation to the Department of Justice and FBI for discovering and implementing a type of anthrax the various labs have been trying to invent for years and years. Never mind, we are once again told the government will publish substantiation in the spring. It is possible to suspect, the announcement was delayed in light of the media's facile and quickly fading attention-span.


One thing is for certain, reporters and cameramen will not grab their computers and cameras, fold their tents and quickly fade. Not now. That's what U.S. Attorney Jeffery Taylor obviously hoped when he announced at his August 6 press conference that the case was "over."


The feds, however, go on "investigating."


Actually, they are apparently hoping for more dirt on Bruce Ivins. The word "more" is deployed carefully, because – as Norm Covert points out – the government has put forth nothing that cannot be challenged and on a logical, scientific basis. That's what my colleague does in a lean, taut and consistently cogent column.


In closing, let me say that, while friends, Norm and I have not talked since the anthrax furor started. For the record.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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