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William C. Patrick III, 84, dies; oversaw Fort Detrick biowarfare effort and weaponization of anthrax and other deadly diseases

William C. Patrick III was sent to Iraq in 1994 to look into alleged covert germ labs.
William C. Patrick III was sent to Iraq in 1994 to look into alleged covert germ labs.
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William Capers Patrick III was born July 24, 1926, in Ridgeland, S.C., and grew up in Furman, S.C.

He served in the Army during World War II and became fascinated with penicillin, a newly produced drug given to soldiers to prevent infection. This led to a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of South Carolina in 1948 and a master's degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee in 1949.

After working for an Indiana company that produced antibiotics, Mr. Patrick was recruited to the Army's biowarfare efforts by a former professor at Tennessee.

Mr. Patrick's first marriage, to the former Sara McCoy Ayer, ended in divorce. Survivors include his second wife, Virginia Howsare Patrick of Frederick, whom he married in 1972; two sons from his first marriage, William T. Patrick and Mark E. Patrick, both of Rockville; and two stepchildren, Theresa Bedoya of Baltimore and Martin Lynch of Nashville.

After retiring in 1986, Mr. Patrick remained one of the world's foremost experts on biological warfare and defense and served as a consultant to the CIA, FBI and U.S. military. His business card was adorned with a skull and crossbones.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Patrick led the debriefing of Soviet defector Ken Alibek, who as Kanatjan Alibekov was the deputy chief of the Soviet biowarfare program.

In the mid-2000s, the FBI sought Mr. Patrick's biological weapons expertise for the investigation of the anthrax attacks along the East Coast. A few years earlier, he had been commissioned to write a report on the effectiveness of an anthrax attack spread through the mail system. In the report, Mr. Patrick described how an envelope laced with 2.5 grams of anthrax could do significant harm by direct and indirect contact.

The anthrax attacker - who authorities claimed might have studied Mr. Patrick's report as a "blueprint" - used about the same amount to kill five people and sicken 13 others.

Mr. Patrick was often called on to provide testimony for hearings involving bioterrorism, and was known to participate with zeal. In a 1999 appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he pulled out a small plastic bottle filled with 7.5 grams of an inert anthrax simulant.

"I've been through all the major airports and the security systems of the State Department, the Pentagon, even the CIA, and nobody has stopped me," Mr. Patrick said, noting that if his simulant had been real anthrax, it could "take care of the Rayburn building and all the people in it."

As one of fewer than 100 Americans with operational knowledge of biological agent production, Mr. Patrick was sent to Iraq in 1994 as a U.N. weapons inspector to look into Saddam Hussein's alleged covert germ laboratories.

Despite the macabre nature of his work at Fort Detrick, Mr. Patrick spoke about how vital his profession was to national security.

"We did not sit around talking about the moral implications of what we were doing," he told the Baltimore Sun in 2004. "We were problem-solving."

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