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Context of 'October 2, 2001: Letter Calling Muslim Scientist Potential Biological Warfare Terrorist Arrives Days before First Signs of Anthrax Attacks'

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In 1991, Ayaad Assaad is a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He is a Christian and a long-time US citizen, but he was born in Egypt and his Middle Eastern background and appearance apparently bothers some other scientists at USAMRIID. Around Easter 1991, not long after the Persian Gulf War had ended, Assaad discovers an eight-page poem in his mailbox. The poem mocks Assaad, sometimes in crude and lewd terms. It makes reference to a rubber camel made by some other scientists in the lab that has numerous sexually explicit appendages.
"Camel Club" - The group behind the camel and the poem refer to themselves as the “Camel Club.” There are at least six members of this group. Three are known by name—Philip Zack, Marian Rippy, and Charles Brown—but the names of the others have never been made public.
Complaint - Assaad’s supervisor at USAMRIID at the time is Col. David Franz. Assaad will later claim he went to Franz about the poem and the camel, but Franz “kicked me out of his office and slammed the door in my face, because he didn’t want to talk about it.” Two other Arab-Americans, Kulthoum Mereish and Richard Crosland, also work under Franz and also face harassment from the Camel Club. They will join Assaad in later suing USAMRIID and claiming that Franz was a racist who failed to take any action against the Camel Club, and then fired all three of them when he got the chance during layoffs in 1997 (see May 9, 1997). By the time of the anthrax attacks in 2001, Franz will be a private consultant on countermeasures to biological and chemical attacks. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001; Hartford Courant, 1/20/2002] Zack leaves USAMRIID in December 1991 after facing allegations of unprofessional behavior. Rippy leaves in February 1992.
Investigation - After being ignored by Franz, Assaad files a formal complaint with the Army. Col. Ronald Williams, commander of USAMRIID at the time, heads the investigation. In August 1992, he concludes that Zack and Rippy had been at the center of the Camel Club and also were having an affair with each other even though both were married. Williams formally concludes to Assaad, “On behalf of the United States of America, the Army, and this Institute, I wish to genuinely and humbly apologize for this behavior.” [Salon, 1/26/2002] However, most of the other members of the Camel Club will still be working at USAMRIID when Assaad is laid off in 1997 (see May 9, 1997).
Alleged Patsy - An anonymous letter sent just before the real anthrax attacks are made public in 2001 will say that Assaad is ready to launch a biological attack on the US (see September 26, 2001 and October 3, 2001). Some will later suspect that this letter was an attempt to use Assaad as a scapegoat for the attacks, and his targeting may have been related to the Camel Club dispute. [Hartford Courant, 1/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad, Camel Club, David Franz, Kulthoum Mereish, Charles Brown, Philip Zack, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Richard Crosland, Ronald Williams, Marian Rippy

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Marian Rippy.Marian Rippy. [Source: Cornell University]Salon will later call USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, a “disaster area” in the early 1990s. Government documents “paint a chaotic picture of a poorly managed lab.” One problem is that after the Persian Gulf War ended in early 1991, USAMRIID phases out some projects that are no longer deemed important, but certain scientists refuse to quit doing their research. As a result, some scientists would sneak in after hours and/or on weekends to secretly continue their work.
Racial Harassment - In addition, there is considerable racial harassment between some scientists. A group of about six scientists form a group called the Camel Club and focus their anger on three Arab-American scientists, especially one named Ayaad Assaad. In December 2001, one member of the Camel Club, Philip Zack, is forced to leave USAMRIID after complaints about his behavior. Zack had been researching the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), and he continues to sneak back into USAMRIID to secretly continue his research. Other scientists let him in, while documents go missing and specimens are deliberately mislabeled in an attempt to hide unsanctioned work.
Anthrax, Ebola Go Missing - Worst of all, it appears some dangerous chemicals are taken out of USAMRIID, including anthrax. Lt. Col. Michael Langford takes over as head of USAMRIID’s experimental pathology division in February 1992, and an investigation into the problems there quickly begins. Langford notices that some scientists are using old specimens of anthrax to cover up unauthorized experiments with newer anthrax specimens. Some of the work being done after hours involves anthrax. Langford has particular troubles with Marian Rippy, another member of the Camel Club who is married but having an affair with Zack. In January 1992, a surveillance camera records Zack being let after hours by Rippy. She leaves shortly after Langford takes over. Around this time, the lab loses track of a total of 27 specimens, including anthrax and Ebola. Some scientists believe that some of the specimens could have still been viable after disappearing. The Ames strain of anthrax later used in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) is heavily used at USAMRIID, but it is unknown if any of the anthrax that is lost is of the Ames strain. After the 1992 investigation, some problems will continue. Two scientists who leave USAMRIID in 1997 will say that controls were still so lax when they left that it would not have been difficult for an employee to smuggle out biological specimens. [Hartford Courant, 1/20/2002; Salon, 1/26/2002]
Connection to Patsy Mooted - Shortly before the 2001 anthrax attacks become publicly known, the FBI will receive an anonymous letter saying that Assaad could launch a biological attack on the US (see September 26, 2001 and October 3, 2001). This will motivate some to speculate Assaad was set up as a patsy, possibly by his old enemies linked to the Camel Club. Speculation will particularly focus on Zack due to his unauthorized lab work after he stopped working there. Some will suspect a religious angle, guessing from his name that Zack was Jewish and hated Assaad, a Muslim. However, Zack’s wedding announcement says he was Catholic, and Assaad is Coptic Christian (see October 3, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Camel Club, Ayaad Assaad, Philip Zack, Marian Rippy, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Michael Langford

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Ayaad Asaad.Ayaad Asaad. [Source: Public Domain]Dr. Ayaad Assaad, a scientist who has worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, since 1989, is unexpectedly laid off in March 1997, and serves his last day at USAMRIID on May 9, 1997. Assaad is a naturalized American citizen and was born in Egypt. He helped develop a ricin vaccine while working there, but had been harassed by a group of Caucasian colleagues at USAMRIID known as the “Camel Club” who make fun of his Middle Eastern ethnicity. Assaad soon gets a job at the Environmental Protection Agency. He also soon sues the US Army for discrimination and wrongful dismissal. Shortly before the 2001 anthrax attacks become publicly known, he will be the target of a letter that seems to set him up as the one responsible for the attacks (see October 2, 2001). Future anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill gets a job at USAMRIID this year, but not until after Assaad is gone. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A couple members of the Camel Club lost their jobs in the early 1990s. However, it will later be reported that while Assaad loses his job at this time due to general industry-wide cutbacks, “many of those he accused [keep] theirs.” [Hartford Courant, 7/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Ayaad Assaad, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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

On September 18, 2001, a scientist in Milwaukee tells police that he is building an anthrax delivery system in his basement. The unnamed scientist is drunk and having a dispute with a neighbor when he makes the comments to the police. On September 28, FBI agents arrive with a search warrant but find no anthrax or any sign of an anthrax delivery system. The man is said to work in a bowling alley, but had worked as a senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute, a private contractor working with the US government on bioweapons programs including anthrax. He was fired from Battelle in 1996 and again in 1999. He is said to have specialties “in the areas of radio chemistry, military ordnance and munitions, and decontamination.” After being fired in 1999, his house was searched and chemicals were found in his basement that were not illegal to possess but which could have been used to make a lethal concoction. The story will first be reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on October 5, 2001, right when the real anthrax attacks are first becoming public (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards). [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/5/2001] ABC News will revive the story on December 20, 2001, and say the unnamed scientist is under investigation for a role in the anthrax attacks. ABC will claim the FBI did find suspicious chemicals in his basement, but not anthrax. [ABC News, 12/20/2001] However, the next day it will be reported that the ABC story was wrong. US Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) will say he talked to FBI Director Robert Mueller after hearing the ABC New report, and Mueller “said the ABC News report was not true, that ‘The network did not check with us, we have no investigation and no one with or formerly with Battelle is a suspect.’” [Columbus Dispatch, 12/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Battelle Memorial Institute, Mike DeWine, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On September 22, 2001, an employee at the New York Post gets a blister on her finger. She will later test positive for cutaneous anthrax. Six others get sick from anthrax on September 26, 27, and 28, and October 1, including an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. But most of these cases their only visible symptoms are minor skin lesions. None of these cases are seen as anthrax infections at the time. On September 30, Robert Stevens, an employee at the tabloid The Sun, starts to feel ill. He will later die of the more serious inhalation anthrax (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards and October 3, 2001). Only in the days right after his death will these earlier cases be properly diagnosed and linked to the anthrax letters. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Bob Stevens

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

Ayaad Assaad.Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Salon]Three days before the anthrax attacks are first made public, a letter is received by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, warning that Dr. Ayaad Assaad, employed until 1997 (see May 9, 1997) as an anthrax researcher at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is a “‘a potential terrorist,’ with a grudge against the United States and the knowledge to wage biological warfare against his adopted country.” This is the latest in a series of verbal attacks against Assaad since the early 1990s, which includes anonymous, long hateful and derogatory poems about him (see 1991-1992). The author of the letter says he is a former colleague of Assaad. The letter seems like a not-very-subtle attempt to frame Assaad for the anthrax attacks about to come. The letter strongly suggests the attacks could have been by someone at USAMRIID with a long time grudge against Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001; Salon, 1/26/2002] The FBI questions Assaad about the letter one day later (see October 3, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Scientist Ayaad Assaad is interviewed by the FBI. Just one day before, the FBI received a letter that was mailed to an FBI office on September 26 (see September 26, 2001) and seems to point the blame for the upcoming anthrax attacks at Assaad. He is living in Washington, DC, at the time, and is interviewed by FBI agents Mark Buie and Gregory Leylegian at the FBI’s Washington field office. His lawyer, Rosemary McDermott, is also present. The agents read him the entire letter aloud and briefly show it to him, but will not allow him to make a copy of it.
bullet The one page, single-spaced letter says “Dr. Assaad is a potential biological terrorist,” and he is planning to mount a biological attack against the US. It adds he has the “means and will” to succeed.
bullet It continues, “I have worked with Dr. Assaad, and I heard him say that he has a vendetta against the US government and that if anything happens to him, he told his sons to carry on.”
bullet Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapon laboratory, until he was laid off in 1997, and the letter gives accurate details about Assaad’s security clearances when he worked there.
bullet Since 1997, Assaad has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the letter gives accurate details about his job there as well.
bullet The letter mentions slightly inaccurate details about Assaad’s commute from his home in Frederick, Maryland, to his EPA job in Virginia.
bullet It states that Assaad is a “religious fanatic.” (Assaad is a Christian but many assume he is Muslim due to his Egyptian ancestry.) [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002; Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004]
bullet It makes reference to “further terrorist activity” by Assaad without mentioning what his supposed previous terrorist activity was. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
bullet The letter is not signed.
Several days later, after the anthrax attacks are made public, Assaad contacts the FBI and gives a list of the former co-workers he suspects could have been behind the letter. It is not clear if the FBI does anything with this however, as they rebuff his repeated attempts to be interviewed. Despite the obvious potential connection to the anthrax attacks, which first become known two days after this interview, the FBI will not interview Assaad again on the matter until May 2004 (see May 11, 2004). [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Mark Buie, Gregory Leylegian, Ayaad Assaad, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Robert Stevens.Robert Stevens. [Source: Associated Press]The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” [Salon, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Patrick J. Leahy, NBC, Glenn Greenwald, New York Post, Richard Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 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

On October 3, 2001, Ayaad Assaad was questioned by the FBI because a letter written by an unnamed former colleague of his said he was a potential biological terrorist who could attack the US (see October 3, 2001). Just days later, the anthrax attacks became publicly known, and there is speculation that the letter may have been an attempt to frame Assaad for the attacks. Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where many believe the anthrax used in the attacks originated. Before Assaad left USAMRIID in 1997, some of his colleagues in an informal group called the Camel Club harassed him due to his Middle Eastern background (even though he is Christian and a US citizen—see 1991-1992). In the early 1990s, some members of the Camel Club were found to be working on unauthorized projects at USAMRIID even after no longer being employed there, at a time when anthrax and other deadly germs went missing from the lab (see Early 1992). On December 4, 2001, a military spokesman says that FBI investigators are seeking to question current and former USAMRIID employees. However, on December 9, the Hartford Courant reports that most of the members of the (apparently defunct) Camel Club say they have yet to be questioned by the FBI. An FBI spokesman also says that the FBI is not tracking the source of the anonymous letter blaming Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001] Don Foster is a professor and linguistic analyst helping with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Foster will only find out about the letter after the Courant publishes their December 9 article. He will also discover that many others in the FBI’s investigation know nothing of it, either. For instance, top FBI profiler and threat-assessment expert James Fitzgerald, who hired Foster to work on the investigation, has never heard of it. Foster will later comment, “What, I wondered, has the anthrax task force been doing?” [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] The FBI will not question some of Assaad’s co-workers until 2004 (see February 11-March 17, 2004), and will not question him again until 2004 as well, even though officials say off the record that the Assaad letter remains intriguing (see May 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Don Foster, Ayaad Assaad, Camel Club, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Fitzgerald, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Ayaad Assaad.Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Public domain]In mid-October 2001, the FBI hires professor Don Foster to help with the anthrax attacks investigation because he is an expert at discovering the authors of unknown texts by an analysis of word usage. He has already helped the FBI with many cases. In early December 2001, he reads a newspaper article about a letter mailed shortly before the anthrax attacks became publicly known that accuses former USAMRIID scientist Ayaad Assaad of planning to launch a biological attack on the US (see October 3, 2001). FBI investigators are largely ignorant of this letter, even though the FBI already strongly suspects that the anthrax used in the attacks came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see December 9, 2001). Foster asks for and receives a copy of the letter, known as the Quantico letter because it was mailed to a government office in Quantico, Virginia. He looks through documents written by about 40 USAMRIID employees and finds “writings by a female officer that looked like a perfect match.” He writes a report to the FBI about this, but the FBI fails to follow through, as the Quantico letter has already been declared irrelevant even though few FBI investigators are even aware of it yet. Foster will write of his experience with the letter in a September 2003 article in Vanity Fair. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] Apparently, this will lead to a renewed interest in the letter. The FBI will finally question Assaad about the letter in 2004, and will express their knowledge of Foster’s Vanity Fair article when they talk to him. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] However, it is unknown if the woman Foster identified is ever questioned. The FBI does show particular interest in questioning one person about the letter in early 2004, but that person is a man (see February 11-March 17, 2004).

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Don Foster

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

On February 11, 2004, the FBI interviews at least one scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The name of the person interviewed is not known, but he is asked whether he wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI that possibly set up scientist Ayaad Assaad as a patsy for the attacks just before they occurred (see October 3, 2001). Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, until 1997, and has worked at the EPA since then. The unnamed scientist says that he had nothing to do with the letter. It appears this person is possibly subjected to a polygraph test after this, but if so the results are not known. [Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004] On March 17, 14 additional EPA employees are interviewed about the letter. The interviews are said to focus on trying to find out who wrote it. [Washington Times, 3/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ayaad Assaad

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI re-interviews Ayaad Assaad, who was the target of a letter sent just before the 2001 anthrax attacks that seemed to point to him as being responsible for those attacks (see October 2, 2001). Assaad was interviewed about this shortly after the letter was sent (see October 3, 2001), and this is the second time the FBI has questioned him. The FBI tells him that he is not a suspect but they are interested in where he was when the anthrax letters were mailed. He gives documentation showing that he was in the Washington, DC, area at the time. He is also asked about his knowledge of producing anthrax. Assaad, who has been working at the Environmental Protection Agency since 1997 (see May 9, 1997), is an expert on the toxin ricin, and says he has never handled anthrax. He also says he has never been vaccinated against anthrax. He believes the FBI indeed is not interested in him as a suspect but as someone the anthrax attacker or attackers may have tried to frame. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] Officially, the government has consistently claimed that the letter had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks and was just a strange coincidence. But CNN reports, “government sources said the interest in Assaad centers on the [anonymous] letter and the theory that whoever mailed it could have also been involved in sending the anthrax letters. ‘It is one of several out there,’ one source said when asked how accepted that theory is. ‘No one has been ruled out.’” [CNN, 5/17/2004] Assaad claims that prior to this interview, he had contacted the FBI four times over the past two and a half years, offering to tell what he knows about his former colleagues who might have sent the letter. But he says he was rebuffed all four times. [Hartford Courant, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ayaad Assaad

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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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