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Context of 'September 17-18, 2001: First Wave of Anthrax Attacks Targets ABC, NBC, CBS, New York Post, and National Enquirer'

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In the days after the 9/11 attacks, white supremacist William Pierce, the leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974 and 1978), tells a radio audience that the attacks could help fundamentally destabilize the US government: “Things are a bit brittle now. A few dozen more anthrax cases (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001), another truck bomb in a well chosen location (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and substantial changes could take place in a hurry: a stock market panic, martial law measures by the Bush government, and a sharpening of the debate as to how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.” On his Web site, Pierce says that “terrorism is not the problem,” and explains that the current terror threat is “the price for letting ourselves, our nation, be used by an alien minority to advance their own interests at the expense of ours.” Pierce, an outspoken anti-Semite, is referring to Jews as an “alien minority.” Many white supremacists have expressed their support for Islamist terrorists, including al-Qaeda, because of their common antipathy towards Jews. [David Neiwert, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Alliance, William Luther Pierce

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Bruce Ivins playing keyboards in a Celtic band.Bruce Ivins playing keyboards in a Celtic band. [Source: New York Times]Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins expresses anger at the 9/11 attacks in e-mails.
First E-mail - On September 15, 2001, he writes in an e-mail to a friend: “I am incredibly sad and angry at what happened, now that it has sunk in. Sad for all the victims, their families, their friends. And angry. Very angry. Angry at those who did this, who support them, who coddle them, and who excuse them.”
Second E-mail - Ivins has been receiving psychological help since 2000, and in an e-mail on September 26, he makes reference to a group counseling session: “Of the people in my ‘group,’ everyone but me is in the depression/sadness/flight mode for stress. I’m really the only scary one in the group. Others are talking about how sad they are or scared they are, but my reaction to the WTC/Pentagon events is far different. Of course, I don’t talk about how I really feel with them—it would just make them worse. Seeing how differently I reacted than they did to the recent events makes me really think about myself a lot. I just heard tonight that bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas.” He also says in the same e-mail, “Osama bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.”
Similar Wording with Anthrax Letters - The FBI will later consider this e-mail evidence that Ivins was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), even though feelings of anger after 9/11 were hardly unusual. The FBI will note the similarity of that last sentence and the text in anthrax letters sent around September 18 and October 9 that say “DEATH TO AMERICA” and “DEATH TO ISRAEL” (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 6-9, 2001). [Frederick News-Post, 8/7/2008]
Newspaper Reference - Ivins’s e-mail appears to at least partially be in reference to a newspaper article that day in the Washington Times. The article reports, “Intelligence officials say classified analysis of the types of chemicals and toxins sought by al-Qaeda indicate the group probably is trying to produce the nerve agent sarin, or biological weapons made up of anthrax spores.” [Washington Times, 9/26/2001]
Common Phrasing - In 2008, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note that “‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ were hardly some exotic or unique phrases the use of which by both Ivins and the anthrax attacker would constitute anything incriminating. To the contrary, those phrases were very common, and routinely appeared in press reports, particularly around the time of 9/11, for obvious reasons…” He will note that both exact phrases appeared in newspapers at the time, including mentions in the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post on September 27, one day after Ivins’s second e-mail. Greenwald will add: “[I]f anything is true, it’s that attributing to Islamic radicals the phrases ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ was a cliché, not some unique rhetorical fingerprint marking Ivins as the author of the anthrax letters. That’s almost certainly why the anthrax attacker invoked those images in the letters—because they were such common fears among Americans in the wake of 9/11.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Glenn Greenwald, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. [Source: FBI]A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
bullet 09-11-01
bullet THIS IS NEXT
bullet TAKE PENACILIN NOW
bullet DEATH TO AMERICA
bullet DEATH TO ISRAEL
bullet ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. [New York Times, 12/5/2001; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).

Entity Tags: CBS News, New York Post, NBC News, National Enquirer, Tom Brokaw, ABC News

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

A letter postmarked September 26, 2001 is sent to the FBI that seems to blame scientist Ayaad Assaad for the upcoming anthrax attacks. Assaad is an Egyptian-American. The letter is sent days after the first anthrax-laced letters were sent out (see September 17-18, 2001), but days before the first media reports of any anthrax-related illnesses (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards). The letter will be received by the FBI on October 2 (see October 2, 2001). [Associated Press, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

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

The message of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Daschle.The message of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Daschle. [Source: FBI]On October 9, two letters containing deadly anthrax spores are postmarked. One letter is sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and the other is sent to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The letters are sent from a mailbox in Trenton, New Jersey. They could be sent any time after 5 p.m. on October 6 (the last pick up on the day, a Saturday), and before 5 p.m. on October 9. (There is no pickup on October 7, a Sunday, and October 8 is Columbus Day.) The letter to Daschle is opened by one of his staffers on October 15 (see October 15, 2001). It contains the message:
bullet 09-11-01
bullet YOU CAN NOT STOP US.
bullet WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.
bullet YOU DIE NOW.
bullet ARE YOU AFRAID?
bullet DEATH TO AMERICA.
bullet DEATH TO ISRAEL.
bullet ALLAH IS GREAT.
The writing is the same slanted, block style used in the earlier wave of anthrax letters (see September 17-18, 2001), and the content of the message is very similar. The letter to Leahy is mis-routed and not discovered until mid-November (see October 15, 2001). It contains the exact same message. Unlike the earlier wave of letters, both of these letters contain return addresses, but to bogus addresses in other New Jersey towns. The anthrax in the letters is also deadlier than the anthrax in the earlier letters. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Maj. Gen. John Parker.Maj. Gen. John Parker. [Source: Public domain]On October 25, 2001, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge tells reporters that the anthrax used in a letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “highly concentrated” and “pure” and that a binding material was used, resulting in small spore clusters that are more easily spread. In contrast, the anthrax in a letter sent to the New York Post was coarser and less concentrated. Both letters used the same Ames strain of anthrax bacterium. (The Post letter was part of a less sophisticated first wave of letters (see September 17-18, 2001) and the Daschle letter was from the second wave (see October 6-9, 2001).) On October 29, Major General John Parker, commanding general of USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, makes similar comments at a White House briefing. He says silica was found in the Daschle letter anthrax and the anthrax spore concentration in the Daschle letter was ten times that of the New York Post letter. The presence of a binding agent like silica supports theories that the anthrax used in the attacks was “weaponized” (highly sophisticated and deadly) and more likely made by a government team than a single individual. But in 2006, the FBI will reverse course and say there was no silica or any other type of binding agent in any of the anthrax letters (see August 2006). An anonymous former government official will later claim, “Those judgments were premature and frankly wrong.” He will say that top government officials with no scientific background received briefings from people who also were not scientists and “the nuances got lost.” [Chemical and Engineering News, 12/4/2006] But the idea of the data being lost in translation does not jibe with Parker’s comments at the time, especially since Parker is a qualified scientist. For instance, he says, “I have looked at the specimen under the microscope, both the electron microscope and the scanning microscope, and I can say that the sample was pure spores.” [ABC News, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, John Parker

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick falsely claims that “the two cases of domestic terrorism since 9/11” have taken place “on Obama’s watch.” In recent months, two former Bush administration officials have denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009). The progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters will write, “Frederick joins [the] list of conservatives denying existence of terrorist attacks under Bush.” Frederick writes: “If this is what it takes to wake up Obama to the evils of this world, then he learned an easy lesson. But tell that to the personnel who lost their lives to terrorism at Fort Hood [referring to the November 9, 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, perpetrated by a Muslim US Army psychiatrist with suspected ties to extremist groups]. Then, as now, the Obama administration fails to swiftly acknowledge the threat. They demur in describing our enemy as radical Muslims. They plan to close the offshore prison for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and transfer the prisoners to the United States. They give the enemy combatants who killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11 the privilege of a civilian federal trial in New York City when a military tribunal is more appropriate. And for three days our president failed to address his people directly on Abdulmutallab’s failed effort to blow up a commercial flight over Detroit on Christmas Day [referring to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an explosive device carried in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight—see December 25, 2009]. All of this on top of President Obama’s noticeable refusal to characterize our struggle as a ‘war’ on ‘terror.’ In the wake of fierce criticism, Obama now talks tough about keeping America safe. But in the two cases of domestic terrorism since 9/11—both on Obama’s watch—red flags flew aplenty.” Frederick either forgets or ignores a string of domestic terrorist attacks on US targets during the Bush presidency, including the 2001 anthrax attacks (see September 17-18, 2001, October 5-November 21, 2001, October 6-9, 2001, and October 15, 2001); the attempt to blow up a transatlantic plane by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who has ties to al-Qaeda (see December 22, 2001); the 2002 attack on the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, designated by the Justice Department as an official “act of international terrorism”; the 2002 sniper shootings in the Washington, DC, area, carried out by John Allen Muhammed, who was convicted of terrorism charges; and the 2006 attack on the University of North Carolina campus, where a Muslim student struck nine pedestrians in his SUV because, he said, he wanted to “avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world.” [Media Matters, 1/6/2010]

Entity Tags: John Allen Muhammed, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Las Vegas Review-Journal, Media Matters, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Richard C. Reid, Sherman Frederick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

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