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News Briefs

Justice Dept. Discounts Terrorist Nuclear Attack Tip


White House and Justice Department officials Monday dismissed a recent intelligence tip about possible attacks against U.S. nuclear facilities on or around July 4, saying it is uncorroborated and came from an unreliable source.

“Our guys just aren’t taking it seriously,” said a Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The intelligence folks they talked to were not taking it seriously, (the) story was uncorroborated like the vast majority of the intelligence tips that come in from foreign sources.”

The threat, first reported Monday by The Washington Times, was received by U.S. officials sometime last week. It suggested that an unidentified Islamic terrorist group was planning to attack a nuclear facility -- perhaps the Three Mile Island power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., or another facility in the Northeast.

The Justice official said the tip came from intelligence officials in Europe, and that it did not generate any escalated threat warnings or communications among U.S. counterterrorism officials.

The official also specifically said the tip did not come from Abu Zubeida, the high-ranking al-Qaida official who has told authorities about planned attacks at U.S. financial institutions and shopping malls. Zubeida was captured March 28 during an early morning commando raid in Pakistan and has been talking to his U.S. interrogators, officials said.

Study: Anthrax Tainted Up to 5,000 Letters


Envelopes full of anthrax spores cross-contaminated as many as 5,000 letters in the eastern United States, almost certainly causing the mysterious deaths of two women in New York City and rural Connecticut, scientists said Monday.

A mathematical model describing last fall’s attacks suggested that focusing only on anthrax-laden envelopes could be a grave mistake: “The original letters were extremely dangerous,” said Vanderbilt University mathematician Glenn Webb. “But there was also great danger from cross-contamination.”

Webb and co-researcher Martin Blaser, chairman of medicine at the New York University Medical School, said the model could be used to predict the course of future letter-borne anthrax attacks and perhaps save lives. Their research was published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We hope there won’t be any further outbreaks,” Blaser said. “But if there were, this could help us identify the populations at risk and might help us move more quickly to find the source of the initial exposures.”