Standards Devised

For Anthrax Tests

Scientists working for the government have developed standards to measure the accuracy of anthrax detection tests, hoping to steer first responders away from false readings.

In 2002, the White House warned that not one of the anthrax field tests then commercially available was reliable. Since the 2001 anthrax attacks, the field tests have been commonly used when police or firefighters are asked to determine whether a bit of white powder may be a bioterrorism agent.

The new standards, announced yesterday, are meant to help sort out which of the detectors work. The organization of scientists that developed the standards, AOAC International, said one test, meant for lab use only, has met the standards. A second test, a handheld device for use in the field, has proved effective in the lab but must still be tested in field conditions.

"There's still uncertainties on the part of emergency responders as to whether or not the equipment that's been marketed meets any consensus standards," said Bert Coursey, a standards executive in the science and technology arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

AOAC developed the standards and tested a first round of anthrax detectors under a $2.6 million, 18-month contract with the Homeland Security and Defense departments.

Panel Member Wants

Vow From Specter

A conservative member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he could support Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) as chairman of the committee if Specter issued a public statement saying he would not try to block a Supreme Court nominee who opposes abortion rights.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Specter assured him in a conversation Tuesday he would push for swift up-or-down votes on nominees without regard to their positions on abortion. Cornyn indicated he was satisfied by Specter's comments but wanted them expressed in an official statement.

Asked if he thought Specter would get the chairmanship, Cornyn said, "Today, yes, I do."

Cornyn also said Specter is seeking a meeting with Republicans on the judiciary panel next week to resolve doubts prompted by his comments last week suggesting that the Senate was unlikely to confirm nominees who would overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Conservatives have flooded the Senate with protests, urging Republicans to reject Specter as chairman.

Lawmaker Says

She Warned of Plot

A California congresswoman says she tipped off federal agents to an alleged terrorist conspiracy at an Albany mosque.

Rep. Diane Watson of the Los Angeles area said yesterday that she reached out to the FBI around the beginning of this year to warn authorities that a plot was brewing in New York's capital. Two prominent members of an Albany mosque were arrested in early August and charged with money laundering and supporting terrorism. Their trial is pending.

Watson said a "very close" friend who worked in Albany called her to report that a terrorist attack was being planned in the city.

-- Compiled from reports

by staff writer Helen Dewar

and news services