This story somehow linked to Operation
Raindance. This is the American project which creates biologicals that
will target selective races.
Suspicious Canisters, Clues Unearthed in
Orange County, California
Inquiry: Police believe they hold weapons or hazardous materials.
Doctor's link to South Africa military probed.
By SCOTT MARTELLE, JACK LEONARD, H.G. REZA, Times Staff Writers
Investigators unearthed six suspicious canisters Thursday
from the backyard of Dr. Larry C. Ford's Irvine home as details emerged
about the biomedical researcher's possible one-time links to military and
biological weapons programs. The specifics of Ford's role are unclear, but
in an interview Thursday the former surgeon general of the South African
Defense Force said Ford served as an "informal consultant" and
provided advice on protecting military personnel against biological attacks.Dr.
Neil Knobel said that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a South African
government panel investigating apartheid-era human rights abuses, asked
about his relationship with Ford during hearings in 1998.The commission
also asked the head of a secret South African military biological weapons
program whether Ford had worked with him, Knobel said, though the panel
did not mention Ford's name in any final report.
Knobel said he does not believe Ford played a role in weapons
development, but another South African doctor said Ford claimed in 1995
that he had been involved in the research.Ford is at the center of a widening
probe into the attempted assassination last week of his business partner,
John Patrick Riley, chief executive of Biofem Inc.Ford committed suicide
March 2, police said, a day after detectives served search warrants on his
Irvine home in connection with the shooting.The excavation in Ford's backyard
came after detectives were told by an unnamed family member that the doctor
had buried weapons and biological materials on the property.
Officer Discounts Danger of Containers
Police on Thursday found six white plastic cylinders, 10
inches wide and at least 3 feet long, buried beneath a concrete slab in
Ford's backyard."We have dug down 3 feet and haven't reached the other
end of the cylinders, which we believe are also capped," Irvine Police
Lt. Sam Allevato said. "We don't know what's inside, but we believe
they are filled with illegal weapons and hazardous materials."
Once dirt is removed from around the containers, a robot
from the Orange County Sheriff's Department will be used to lift them out.
The cylinders will be X-rayed at the site and then taken to a laboratory,
where they will be opened, police said.Allevato said he doesn't believe
the canisters pose a health threat."We believe the items [inside] to
be secure," he said. "They are in a static condition and will
only be opened in a lab."
Another 21 canisters filled with "thousands of rounds"
of ammunition, including belted machine gun rounds, were found during a
search of Ford's house, Allevato said. No illegal weapons were found in
the home, he said.Police said Ford owned a number of rifles and shotguns,
and ammunition for those legal weapons was found in the home. Hundreds of
rifle rounds were discovered inside a closet, under a false floorboard,
Allevato said.It is unclear why Ford had the belted machine gun ammunition,
illegal for a private gun collector to own. Police believe the suspected
biological materials were used as part of Ford's medical research.Ford's
attorney said Wednesday that his client had once done work for the U.S.
government on chemical weapons but didn't know specifics.
Federal government sources said Thursday they were aware
Ford had contact with the South African consulate in Los Angeles during
the 1980s.Police closed an Irvine elementary school and evacuated 48 families,
about 250 residents, from the neighborhood Wednesday as a precaution. They
feared that Ford might have booby-trapped some of the buried containers,
but Allevato said no explosive devices were found.The dig came more than
a week after an apparent botched assassination attempt on Riley, 58, as
he arrived for work at Biofem's Irvine Spectrum offices. An unidentified
gunman shot Riley once in the cheek, then fled in a van, which investigators
said was driven by Los Angeles businessman Dino D'Saachs, 56, who has been
charged in the case. The gunman remains at large.
Three days later, Ford returned home after meeting with his
lawyer, then shot himself in an upstairs bedroom.
Riley issued a statement Thursday sympathizing with the families
evacuated but declaring that his company never worked with hazardous materials.
"I am very sorry that this has caused such a disruption
to your lives," he said through a public relations company. "I
want to assure everyone that the work at Biofem does not, nor has it ever
in the past, involved the use of toxic materials or chemicals. Additionally,
there are no toxic substances of any type involved in the creation or testing
of our products."
Biofem Had Considered Trials in S. Africa
Riley said he has been advised to "remain in seclusion
for the time being. I am looking forward to a full recovery and returning
to work and resuming my life."He said that company officials are already
back at work in hopes of starting clinical trials soon on Inner Confidence,
a female contraceptive suppository they believed would also hinder the spread
of sexually transmitted diseases. Biofem, he added, has sufficient funds
to complete tests.Until the outbreak of violence, Biofem was a little-noted
company through which Ford and Riley sought to market Inner Confidence.One
of their ideas was to conduct clinical trials in South Africa, a plan supported
by Knobel, the military surgeon general who retired in 1997.
Dr. Otto Muller, a South African medical researcher, said
he worked with the company to draw up plans for the trials. But Biofem never
followed through, he said.Ford had also suggested trials involving South
African defense forces' medical personnel, Muller said. But Muller rejected
that idea, fearing political fallout because the mostly white military had
been so discredited in the wake of apartheid.Raymond A. Lee, the Biofem
attorney, said the firm dropped the South African trials to await approval
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which he said would allow them
to market the product globally.
The extent of Ford's relation with the South African military
is unclear. Muller said Ford told him in 1995 that he was involved in South
Africa's military-led program to develop biological weapons.Knobel did say
that Ford worked with the military during the Persian Gulf War by giving
advice on a chemical-warfare protection plan for personnel stationed in
* * *
Times staff writer Jeff Gottlieb, researcher Salma Patel
in Johannesburg and correspondent Judy Silber contributed to this report.
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