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Context of 'October 5, 2001: Scientist Confirms Deadly Anthrax Is Ames Strain'

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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

On October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the tabloid The Sun, arrived at a Florida hospital with a 102-degree fever and vomiting. He quickly got worse. The next day, doctors determine he has been infected with anthrax. He is put on a respirator. On October 4, Florida doctors and officials hold a press conference to confirm that a patient has anthrax, but that they believe it is an isolated case. On October 5, Stevens is pronounced dead, becoming the first person in the US to die from anthrax since 1976. One of Stevens’s coworkers, Ernesto Blanco, has been hospitalized with pneumonia since October 1, but it will not be discovered that Blanco also has anthrax until shortly after Stevens’s death. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] Health and Human Services Director Tommy Thompson tells reporters that the Stevens infection is “an isolated case” that is “not contagious.” Thompson reassures the public, “There is no terrorism” involved in Stevens’s infection. He also asserts that Stevens was infected from an environmental source, saying, “We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week.” It is unclear whether Thompson is misinformed or being deliberately deceptive. [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 34]

Entity Tags: US Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson, Bob Stevens, Ernesto Blanco

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

On October 3, 2001, doctors determine that Robert Stevens in Florida has been infected with anthrax (see October 3, 2001). A culture of anthrax bacteria is grown from a sample of his spinal fluid and quickly flown by corporate jet to Paul Keim. Keim is a geneticist at Northern Arizona University who had recently developed a means to distinguish between strains of anthrax. He and his team gets the sample on October 4 and work all night. By Friday morning, they tell investigators that it is the Ames strain of anthrax. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] The media will first report that the anthrax was the Ames strain on October 10. [Associated Press, 10/10/2001] Despite Keim’s findings, the FBI will approve the destruction of a vital repository of Ames samples, also on October 10 (see October 10-11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bob Stevens, Paul Keim

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI allows the original batch of the Ames strain of anthrax to be destroyed, making tracing the type of anthrax used in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) more difficult. The Ames strain actually originates from a dead cow in Texas, but Iowa State University in Ames has kept many vials of Ames and other anthrax strains collected over more than seven decades. This entire collection is destroyed. It is unclear who wanted the collection destroyed or why. The FBI learned the anthrax used in the attack letters was the Ames strain on October 5 (see October 5, 2001), but this will not be publicly confirmed until October 25. The FBI denies it approved the destruction and say they only did not oppose it, but university officials say the FBI gave explicit approval. [New York Times, 11/9/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] The Ames strain is one of 89 known varieties of anthrax and is commonly used in US military research. The Washington Post will later report that “The [Ames strain identification], as compelling as a human fingerprint, shifted suspicion away from al-Qaeda and suggested another disturbing possibility: that the anthrax attacks were the work of an American bioweapons insider.” The identification of the Ames strain focuses much attention on two top US Army bioweapons laboratories in particular that have heavily used Ames: USAMRIID in Maryland and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (see Late 2001). [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

After investigators discover in mid-October 2001 that the anthrax used in the anthrax attacks comes from the Ames strain (see October 10-11, 2001), the FBI investigation largely discards theories that al-Qaeda or Iraq was behind the attacks and begins to focus on domestic suspects. Within weeks, FBI investigators draw up lists of thousands of suspects who have access to anthrax or the scientific knowledge to work with it. Much of the initial investigation focuses on the US military’s bioweapons program, and especially the two US Army bioweapons laboratories, USAMRIID (in Maryland) and the Dugway Proving Ground (in Utah) which have heavily used the Ames strain. Mark Smith, a veteran handwriting analyst, studies the anthrax letters and speculates that the suspect has worked for or had close ties to US military intelligence or the CIA. An FBI agent who is also a microbiologist is sent to the Dugway Proving Ground and spends weeks questioning more than 100 employees there. Scientists there are repeatedly asked who they think could have committed the attacks. Several people suggest Steven Hatfill. There is no actual evidence against Hatfill, but he is a larger than life figure with a curious background. The Washington Post will later comment: “Hatfill was not some mild-mannered, white-coated researcher who’d spent his career quietly immersed in scientific minutiae. With his thick black mustache, intense eyes and muscular, stocky build, he looked—and behaved—more like a character in a Hollywood action flick.” He is a serious scientist, but colleagues call him “flamboyant,” “raunchy,” and “abrasive.” He has worked with a number of US agencies, including the CIA, FBI, DIA, and Defense Department, on classified bioweapons projects. He has a mysterious background working and studying in South Africa and Zimbabwe for a number of years. For instance, a South African newspaper will report that he carried a gun into South African medical laboratories and boasted to colleagues that he had trained bodyguards for a white separatist leader. He is one of a core group of about 50 to 100 people that the FBI begins focusing on. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Dugway Proving Ground, Mark Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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