!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'February 8, 2002: FBI’s Anthrax Investigation Casts Wide Net, Despite Relatively Small Number of Likely Suspect Laboratories and Scientists'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event February 8, 2002: FBI’s Anthrax Investigation Casts Wide Net, Despite Relatively Small Number of Likely Suspect Laboratories and Scientists. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg.Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. [Source: Public domain]In February 2002, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg claims in a public speech at Princeton University that she knows the identity of the killer behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Rosenberg is a professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York at Purchase, and a biological arms control expert. She states: “There are a number of insiders—government insiders—who know people in the anthrax field who have a common suspect. The FBI has questioned that person more than once… so it looks as though the FBI is taking that person very seriously.” She also claims that the FBI is not that interested in going after this suspect because “[t]his guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize” (see February 8, 2002). In June 2002, she puts out a paper that details her theory about this suspect. She states that “a number of inside experts (at least five that I know about) gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect.” That same month, she presents her ideas to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both of whom had been targeted in the anthrax attacks. She also is invited to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee (see June 24, 2002). Immediately after this, the FBI searches Hatfill’s home while reporters watch, putting him in the public eye as a possible suspect (see June 25, 2002). Rosenberg later denies ever mentioning Hatfill by name. However, one reporter later claims that Rosenberg had specifically given Hatfill’s name as the lead suspect. Furthermore, the description of her suspect exactly matches Hatfill. Hatfill will later blame Rosenberg for the FBI’s interest in him. He will say: “She’s crazy. She caused it.” [Washington City Paper, 7/25/2003] In 2008, Hatfill will be officially cleared of any involvement in the anthrax attacks (see August 8, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Patrick J. Leahy, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Salon exposes details about the FBI’s anthrax investigation. The FBI appears to be casting a very wide net, for instance approaching all 40,000 members of the American Society of Microbiologists and putting out flyers all over New Jersey asking for information. Yet nearly all the evidence so far suggests that the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks was only given to about 20 laboratories in the US, and most likely only four US laboratories have the capability for “weaponizing” dry anthrax. Two of these labs are the US Army’s USAMRIID in Fort Detrick, Maryland, or the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. There are probably less than 50 scientists in the US with the necessary skills. Meanwhile, the FBI has not yet subpoenaed employee records of the few labs that used the strain of anthrax used in the attacks. Numerous anthrax experts express puzzlement. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, believes the FBI is dragging its heels for political reasons. She is convinced the FBI knows who mailed the anthrax letters, but is not arresting him, because he has been involved in secret biological weapons research that the US does not want revealed. “This guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize. Therefore, they don’t want to get too close.” It will later turn out that she is referring to anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill (see February-June 2002). [Salon, 2/8/2002]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

ABC News will later report that the FBI begins suspecting scientist Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) in early 2002. The FBI first begins to suspect Ivins in April when it is discovered he had failed to quickly report anthrax had been found near his desk, away from the laboratory area where he usually works with anthrax. Ivins claims he did not report the leak in a timely manner because he did not want to cause an uproar (see December 2001-May 2002). One of Ivins’s colleagues will later confirm that Ivins knew he had been under suspicion for years, and hired a criminal defense lawyer not long after the attacks. However, the FBI is already focusing their suspicions on a different scientist, Steven Hatfill (see February-June 2002), and largely dismisses concerns about Ivins. Ivins had passed a polygraph test (see Winter 2001), and directly assists the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Not only does he help analyze the anthrax letters, but he participates in strategy meetings on how to find the person responsible. [ABC News, 8/1/2008] Court documents will later claim that Ivins also repeatedly offers the FBI names of colleagues at USAMRIID who might be potential suspects in the attacks. In a 2007 search of his house, the FBI will find an e-mail from 2002 in which he names two fellow scientists and gives 11 reasons for their possible guilt. He sent the email from a personal account to his Army account, but it is not known if he sent it to anyone else. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent involved in the anthrax investigation, will later say, “If he in fact was the correct person, he was actually put in charge of analyzing the evidence of his own crime.” [ABC News, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Brad Garrett, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A curious Congressional briefing takes place on June 24, 2002. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, has been publicly hinting that she knows who is behind the 2001 anthrax attacks. She has been describing a profile that perfectly matches Steven Hatfill without actually naming him or giving any other name (see February-June 2002). On this day, she takes part in a closed door meeting with congressional staffers from the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her theories. Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, a top manager of the investigation, and other FBI officials also attend the meeting. Rosenberg lays out her theories but fails to name her sources or give any hard evidence. At one point, Harp asks her in frustration: “Do you know who did this? Do you know?” She say she does not. Harp has a private conversation with Rosenberg after the meeting. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is unknown what is said, but the next day, the FBI searches Hatfill’s apartment and tips off the media to the search, beginning a public focus on Hatfill as the FBI’s main suspect (see June 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Robert Roth, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, Van Harp, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Brad Garrett.Brad Garrett. [Source: ABC News]The FBI search the home of a scientist who worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. [Associated Press, 6/25/2002] This scientist remains anonymous in most stories, but some name him as Steven Hatfill. The search comes just one day after professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg briefed a senate committee and FBI officials on her theory that Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax attacks (see February-June 2002 and June 24, 2002). The FBI announces that the search found nothing and Hatfill is not a suspect. In the wake of all these stories, one microbiologist states, “Their intent was clearly to put [Hatfill’s] name in the public eye. The only question is why.” [Hartford Courant, 6/27/2002]
Media Tip Off - The media is tipped off in advance to the search. Even as Hatfill is signing a search authorization, news helicopters are already seen flying towards his apartment. Within minutes, droves of reporters arrive. FBI agent Robert Roth, who is part of the search, will later admit in court that “probably several hundred” people knew in advance about the search. Hatfill will continue to cooperate with the FBI.
Tip Off Called Inappropriate - But FBI agent Brad Garrett, also involved in the search, will later comment, “I wouldn’t have spoken to us after that [media tip off].” Asked if it was appropriate to tip off the media beforehand, he will reply, “Absolutely not.…. [I]t’s clearly not appropriate or even responsible to do that in reference to the person you are searching. He’s not been charged. He has not gone to court.” Additionally, it could forewarn “people you are coming to search” and tip off accomplices. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Brad Garrett, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Robert Roth

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI names Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the first person to be so named. The same day, the FBI conductis a second search of his house after tipping the media off in advance (see August 1, 2002). [Associated Press, 8/1/2002; London Times, 8/2/2002] CBS News initially reports: “Federal law enforcement sources told CBS News that Dr. Steven Hatfill was ‘the chief guy we’re looking at’ in the probe. The sources were careful not to use the word suspect, but said they were ‘zeroing in on this guy’ and that he is ‘the focus of the investigation.’” But later in the day their story is changed and that text is removed. Instead, Hatfill is referred to as “a bio-defense scientist on the FBI’s radar screen for months who’s now emerged as a central figure in the anthrax investigation.” [CBS News, 8/1/2002] On the same day, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, one of the world’s top anthrax specialists, is interviewed by FBI agents who ask her whether a team of government scientists could be trying to frame Hatfill. Rosenberg has been very publicly critical of the FBI investigation. [Washington Times, 8/3/2002] She actually appears to be a key figure in getting the FBI to focus on Hatfill in the first place (see February-June 2002). Newsweek follows with a lengthy article purporting to detail the entire anthrax investigation, but it focuses entirely on Hatfill and fails to mention others involved in suspicious activities. [Newsweek, 8/4/2002] The Washington Post does a similar story focusing on Hatfill only, and even claims the US biowarfare program ended decades ago, despite revelations in late 2001 that it is still continuing. [Washington Post, 8/4/2002] Attorney General John Ashcroft calls Hatfill a “person of interest” on August 6. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, John Ashcroft, Steven Hatfill, Philip Zack, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department formally clears Steven Hatfill of any involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The department sends a letter to Hatfill’s lawyer, stating: “We have concluded, based on lab access records, witness accounts, and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings.” [MSNBC, 8/8/2008] Hatfill won $5.8 million from the government in a settlement in June 2008, but the government admitted no wrongdoing and did not make any statement officially clearing him (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks


Time period

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database


Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now


If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike