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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Project: 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, paxvector

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Bruce Ivins teaching a child how to juggle in 1983.Bruce Ivins teaching a child how to juggle in 1983. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins begins working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He will continue working there until a few weeks before his suicide in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). He has master’s and doctoral degrees in microbiology. His work at USAMRIID will generally focus on developing anthrax vaccines. He frequent conducts experiments on animals to test vaccines for various types of anthrax exposure. His experiments use only wet anthrax, not the dry powdered anthrax that will be used in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Ivins has a stable decades-long marriage, several children, and is popular with colleagues and friends. One coworker will later say: “a lot of people cared about him.… He is not Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). He’s not the Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 8/1/2008; Washington Post, 8/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins

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

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, USAMRIID

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

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, USAMRIID

Around 2004, FBI investigators will come to believe that a version of the Ames strain anthrax known as RMR-1029 was the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). RMR-1029 is first developed in 1997 by Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI will later claim that Ivins was the sole custodian of RMR-1029, and only about 100 other people potentially had access to it. However, after the FBI makes this claim, the New York Times will report that beginning in 1997, RMR-1029 is not stored in USAMRIID’s Building 1425, where Ivins’s laboratory is, but in the adjacent Building 1412. The Times will report, “Former colleagues said that its storage in both buildings at different times from 1997 to 2001 might mean that the bureau’s estimate of 100 people with physical access to it was two or three times too low.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID

USAMRIID logo.USAMRIID logo. [Source: US Army]Steven Hatfill, later suspected of being behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), has a two-year contract working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He has access to the most restricted Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, where scientists handle viruses in biohazard suits tethered to air supplies. There’s no evidence of him specifically working with anthrax at this time or any other time, however. His contract holds little meaning after February, when he had started working full time somewhere else. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is later reported that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks could be no older than September 1999. [New York Times, 6/23/2002] While at USAMRIID, Hatfill also works on virology in a different building than where anthrax is studied, so the odds of Hatfill getting access to the type of anthrax used in the attacks at USAMRIID seems extremely small. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002] Although he is a relatively inexperienced scientist, he begins giving public and private lectures about the dangers of biological terrorist attacks, and gets some media coverage as a quoted bioweapons expert. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

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

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, USAMRIID

A package containing a petri dish mislabeled “anthracks” is received at the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington, DC. The choice of B’nai B’rith may be meant to suggest Arab terrorists, because the building had once been the target of an assault by Muslim gunmen. The letter is signed, “The Counter Holocaust Lobbyists of Hillel,” which is similar wording to a known Holocaust denier. The dish does not contain anthrax but does contain bacillus cereus, a very close, non-toxic cousin of anthrax used by the US Defense Department. There are similarities to the later real anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), such as misspelled words—“penacilin,” in the case of the post-9/11 attacks. In July 2002, B’nai B’rith will say the FBI still has not asked it about this hoax anthrax attack. [New York Times, 8/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: B’nai B’rith, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Suspects, Fraudulent 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

Category Tags: USAMRIID, Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter

Steven Hatfill.Steven Hatfill. [Source: Baltimore Sun]In 1998, scientist Steven Hatfill writes and copyrights a novel depicting a biological terrorist attack on the US. This novel will be one reason why he will be suspected for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), before being eventually cleared of any role in those attacks after years of suspicion (see August 1, 2002 and June 27, 2008). The novel, entitled Emergence, depicts a bubonic plague attack by a Palestinian terrorist on the White House and Congress. The bacteria is released in the White House through sprayers installed in a wheelchair, sickening the US president and top Congressional leaders. The terrorist is said to be funded by the Iraqi government, and the novel ends with the US attacking Iraq and dropping a nuclear bomb on Baghdad in retaliation. Hatfill envisions the US media “whip[ping] the American public into a state of near total hysteria” over the attack. He apparently asks for help from friends to get the novel to a publisher or agent, but the help never materializes. The novel will remain on his computer until it is discovered in an FBI raid on his apartment in mid-2002. The FBI will leak details about it to the media in August 2002. [Associated Press, 8/14/2002] However, one detail will not be made public until an article in Vanity Fair one year later: in a short epilogue, a Russian mobster reveals that his own organization and not Iraq was responsible for the attack. The mobster says: “The reaction was as great as we had hoped for the entire focus of the American FBI has now shifted towards combating chemical / biological terrorism and this is allowing us to formulate the unprecedented expansion of our organization.” [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill

Experts report that Iraq has failed to adequately account for 500 mustard-gas shells, 25 “special warheads,” 150 aerial bombs, 2 Scud missiles [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002] , 520 kilograms of yeast extract growth medium specifically for anthrax [NewsMax, 9/4/2002] , 15,000 122 mm artillery shells, 25,000 rockets and several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. [Cirincione, Wolfsthal, and Rajkumar, 6/2002; BBC, 9/11/2002]
25 Special Warheads - Iraq failed to account for 25 special warheads. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter will tell the Christian Science Monitor in mid-2002, “Even if he hid some warheads, they would have degenerated by now.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002]
Scud Missiles - Iraq has accounted for or destroyed 817 of its 819 Scud missiles. [United Nations Special Commission, 1/29/1998] It is later suggested by experts, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter and Charles Duelfer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that Iraq could possibly salvage and manufacture enough components to build up a store of between five and 25 missiles. [BBC, 9/11/2002] But as the San Francisco Chronicle later notes, citing unnamed weapons experts, “there is no evidence that these have been tested or that Iraq has any functional launchers.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
8,5000 liters of anthrax - Iraq maintains that these remaining stores of anthrax were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991; however, they offer no evidence of this. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] Scott Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector, will later say that evidence indicates that Iraq’s liquid bulk anthrax has not been produced by Iraq since 1991. Furthermore, he adds, the factory where Iraq had produced the pathogen was destroyed in 1996. He says that any anthrax produced before then is no longer a threat to anyone because after three years liquid bulk anthrax becomes “useless sludge.” [Reuters, 2/8/2002]
Several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX - UNSCOM is unable to account for several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. Iraq maintains that these remaining stocks were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] In March 2003, UNMOVIC, the successor to UNSCOM, will report that Iraq’s production method created nerve agent that lasted only six to eight weeks. [Independent, 6/1/2003] Critics believe that most of these stocks were destroyed during the First Gulf War. Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector, speaking at the Suffolk Law School building in downtown Boston, will say on July of 2002: “The research and development factory is destroyed [a Gulf War bomb destroyed the production facility on January 23, 1991]. The product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been destroyed. More importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was going to be used for their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was identified by the special commission—still packed in its crates in 1997—and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life.” [Truthout (.org), 7/24/2002]

Entity Tags: Charles Duelfer, Scott Ritter, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq

In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah begin to turn wet anthrax into powder. Supposedly, this is to test how to defend against biological attacks. A spokesperson claims the anthrax produced that year is of a different strain than the Ames strain used in the 2001 anthrax attacks, but will not say if anthrax produced in other years is of the same strain or not. Dugway has had the Ames strain since 1992. In 1999, top bioweapons scientist William Patrick tells a group of US military officers that in the spring of 1998 he taught personnel at Dugway how to turn wet anthrax into powder. He says: “We made about a pound of material in little less than a day. It’s a good product.” This anthrax production will remain secret until the media discovers it in December 2001 (see December 13, 2001). Some will argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others will argue it is not. [New York Times, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, William C. Patrick III, US Department of the Army

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, US Military Bioweapons

A classified report discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated by a series of false anthrax mailings, is written by William Patrick, inventor of the US anthrax weaponization process, under a CIA contract. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The report was commissioned by Steven Hatfill, a good friend of Patrick. [Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002] The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The similarities between what the report predicts and the anthrax attacks that eventually happen after 9/11 are startling (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The BBC later suggests the “possibility that there was a secret CIA project to investigate methods of sending anthrax through the mail which went madly out of control” and that the anthrax attacker knew of this study or took part in it. The CIA and William Patrick will deny the existence of this report, even though copies have been leaked to the media. [BBC, 3/14/2002; Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002]

Entity Tags: William C. Patrick III, Steven Hatfill, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Other Suspects, Steven Hatfill

Beginning in late 1999, the US military begins a secret program to weaponize anthrax. The program, called Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Unconventional Signatures, or Project BACUS, is run by the Defense Department. Scientists build a laboratory in a remote part of the Nevada desert where nuclear bombs used to be tested underground. The scientists in the program have skills typical of those commonly found in the pharmaceutical or pesticide industries and use equipment that can be easily bought at stores or through catalogs, in order to find out if weaponized anthrax can be created without special skills or equipment. Within weeks, they are able to produce large amounts of two germs closely related to anthrax. More batches are produced in 2000 to test for changes in the seasons. The scientists supposedly do not mill or coat the germs in order not to break an international biological weapons treaty. But in fact, some experts and journalists will later say the germs were milled. [Scripps Howard News Service, 10/30/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Category Tags: US Military Bioweapons

SAIC logo.SAIC logo. [Source: SAIC]In 2000, the US begins a secret project to train its special forces how to detect and disarm mobile biological weapons factories. One real mobile biological weapons factory is built, but not actually used to make weapons. US Delta Force units will use this factory in their training in the months before the 2003 Iraq war. The designer of the factory is Steven Hatfill, who will later be named as a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) before being exonerated in 2008. Hatfill’s role in making the factory is one reason why he is later suspected in the anthrax attacks, even though there is no evidence the factory makes anthrax or any other kind of biological weapon, as the different components in it are never connected. Hatfill helps build the factory while working for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a contractor for the US military and the CIA. He begins gathering parts to build it in 2000, and construction begins in September 2001, at a metalworking plant near Fort Detrick, Maryland. SAIC fires him in March 2002, after he fails to get a high-level security clearance and he comes under suspicion for the anthrax attacks. But Hatfill continues to work on the half-built factory on his own, for no pay, until it is finished later that year (see Autumn 2002). The factory is commissioned in 2000 apparently because US intelligence chooses to believe the claims of an Iraqi defector named Curveball, who falsely claims that Iraq has such mobile weapons factories (see January 2000-September 2001). [New York Times, 7/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill

In 2000, US military personnel are being required under the threat of court-martial to be inoculated with an anthrax vaccine. But the vaccine, known as Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed (AVA), is not working very well and some soldiers are getting sick. This results in a loud public outcry lasting into 2001. One of the key scientists working on the vaccine is future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins.
Problems - The vaccine is being made by a company known as BioPort, but in 1998 the company’s sole manufacturing plant was shut down following the discovery of problems there. Ivins is working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and he and about six other USAMRIID scientists were assigned by the Defense Department to fix the problems with the vaccine so production could resume. In a June 2000 e-mail message, Ivins writes, “Unfortunately, since the BioPort people aren’t scientists, the task of solving their problem has fallen on us.” In a July 2000 e-mail message, he writes about the inoculation program, “think the sh_t is about to hit the fan… big time… It’s just a fine mess.”
Alleged Motive - After Ivins’s suicide in 2008, government officials will theorize that Ivins was stressed out due to the vaccine crisis and started having psychological problems. It is undisputed he was having problems at this time (see April-August 2000 and September-December 2001), but officials will further theorize he grew so upset that he was driven to launch the anthrax attacks to eliminate doubts about the vaccine. Investigators will cite Ivins’s e-mail messages from August 2001 regarding ABC News reporter Gary Matsumoto, who had been pressuring Ivins to turn over copies of his notebooks detailing experiments with the vaccine. Ivins complains about Matsumoto, “We’ve got better things to do than shine his shoes and pee on command. He’s gotten everything from me he will get.”
Criticism of FBI - However, Ivins’s colleagues will later criticize the FBI’s vaccine theory. They acknowledge that there was a real threat the AVA vaccine could be pulled from the market. But they also say that Ivins and others were working on a promising new vaccine that was considered safer and more effective. Ivins’s colleague Jeffrey Adamovicz will comment, “There was a lot of consternation, a lot of pressure to rescue this thing. But if AVA failed, he had his next vaccine candidate. It was well on its way to what looked to be a very bright future.” Colleague Gerry Andrews will similarly comment, “Nothing is unimaginable… But I would definitely say [the FBI’s AVA theory] is doubtful.” The Defense Department claims at the time that the vaccine is both safe and effective. But eventually Ivins’s notebooks will be made public and they will show Ivins thought the vaccine was making some test animals sick. [New York Times, 8/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Gary Matsumoto, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, BioPort, Gerry Andrews, US Department of Defense, Jeffrey Adamovicz

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, US Military Bioweapons

Bruce Ivins in high school.Bruce Ivins in high school. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist specializing in anthrax, is said to have mental problems at least from this time. In 2000, he begins taking antidepressant drugs and getting professional psychiatric help. [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet Sometimes he shows evidence of a thinking he might be two people. In an e-mail to an unidentified friend in April 2000, he writes, “Other times it’s like I’m not only sitting at my desk, I’m also a few feet away watching me.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
bullet On June 27, he writes in another e-mail to a friend: “Even with the [antidepressant] Celexa and the counseling, the depression episodes still come and go. That’s unpleasant enough. What is REALLY scary is the paranoia.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet On July 4, he writes, “The thinking now by the psychiatrist and counselor is that my symptoms may not be those of a depression or bipolar disorder, they may be that of a ‘Paranoid Personality Disorder.’”
bullet On July 23, he says, “Sometimes I think it’s all just too much.” [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
bullet On August 12, he writes in another e-mail, “I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind. It’s hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. When I am being eaten alive inside, I always try to put on a good front here at work and at home, so I don’t spread the pestilence.… I get incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times, and there’s nothing I can do until they go away, either by themselves or with drugs.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet Ivins’s comments on his distressed mental state seem to abate for a time after this. On March 4, 2001, he says of his psychiatrist, “He’s not that easy to talk to and doesn’t really pick up on my problems.”
His anxiety at least partly seems related to complications arising from an anthrax vaccine project he had worked on in the late 1990s. By 2000, some Defense Department personnel were publicly complaining that the mandatory vaccine made them severely ill. In one July 2000 e-mail message, he writes, “I think the **** is about to hit the fan bigtime. The control vaccine isn’t working. It’s just a fine mess.” His mental problems will resurface in late 2001 (see September-December 2001). The New York Times will later have Richard Rappaport, an associate clinical psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Diego, examine court documents to assess Ivins’s mental state. Rappaport will wonder why Ivins was allowed to work for so long in a high-security biodefense laboratory. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Rappaport, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins

The Sunday Times reports that an inquiry has been launched into the behavior of Bayer, after revelations in a British trial regarding the anthrax antibiotic drug Cipro. The drug has been tested on hundreds despite the company having conducted studies which showed it reacted badly with other drugs, seriously impairing its ability to kill bacteria. These results are kept secret. Nearly half of those on whom the drug was tested at one test center develop a variety of potentially life-threatening infections, while data at other test centers is unknown. [Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2000]

Entity Tags: Bayer

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

The FDA endorses the use of Bayer’s Cipro drug to prevent inhalation anthrax. [Reuters, 7/28/2000] An official recommendation like this is highly unusual for the FDA. A 1997 Pentagon study of anthrax in rhesus monkeys showed that several other drugs were as effective as Cipro. The reason given for only recommending Cipro is the government wants a weapon against anthrax should it come up against a strain resistant to drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline families of antibiotics. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] The pharmaceutical industry spent $177 million on lobbying in 1999 and 2000—more money than any other industry. The FDA has been accused of conflicts of interest with companies including Bayer. [New York Times, 11/4/2001]

Entity Tags: US Food and Drug Administration, Bayer

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

A series of hoax anthrax letters are sent to Fox News commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Hannity will later say he began receiving the letters in the winter of 2000 and then a second batch in August 2001. Most of them were sent from a postmark in Indianapolis, Indiana, but “one or two were from Trenton,” New Jersey, where the deadly anthrax letters will be sent from shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI will later allow the New York Post to see copies of these letters, which have block handwriting sloping down to the right and other features remarkably similar to the later letters containing real anthrax. Hannity will later say: “When I saw the Tom Daschle envelope and the Tom Brokaw envelope, I immediately was stunned. It was the exact same handwriting that I had recognized.… When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the same guy.’” [New York Post, 11/1/2001; NewsMax, 11/1/2001] The letters have yet to be made public.

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001.A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001. [Source: FBI]After keeping relatively consistent work hours for most of 2001, from mid-August through October 2001, scientist Bruce Ivins spends much more time working in the evenings and on the weekends. Security logs show him sometimes working in the B3 biosecurity chamber where the RMR-1029 anthrax spores that investigators will later believe are used in the 2001 anthrax attacks are kept. Sometimes he works past midnight and when no other researchers are there. Ivins will be asked about this surge of after-hours work in 2005 (see March 31, 2005). He will tell investigators that he was working late to escape troubles at home. The FBI will later find this explanation unconvincing and will suggest Ivins put together the anthrax attacks during these hours. [Washington Post, 8/7/2008] A Guardian article will later skeptically note, “[O]ddly enough, Ivins’ late-night hours began to spike in August of that same year, well before the 9/11 attacks, when the rest of the world, including even George Bush, was largely oblivious to threats of Muslim extremist-inspired terror… But still, perhaps it’s just a coincidence that both Ivins and Bin Laden had [terrorism] in mind in August of that year…” [Guardian, 8/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID

Scientist Steven Hatfill, a future suspect in the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), loses his high-level Department of Defense security clearance. He had apparently misrepresented some things on his resume. He is working at a private company at this time (see 2000-2002), but no explanation is given to his employers. He is allegedly visibly angry over this. Some colleagues will later report suspicions about him to the FBI, thinking that his anger might have led him to send off the anthrax-laced letters. [Baltimore Sun, 7/18/2002; ABC News, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Department of National Defense, Steven Hatfill, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill

Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins shows continuing mental problems after the anthrax attacks become publicly known and he and his colleagues start assisting the FBI anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). In 2000, Ivins began taking anti-depressants and getting psychiatric counseling, apparently after facing anxiety in response to difficulties with an anthrax vaccine he had helped make (see April-August 2000). On September 26, 2001, he writes after a group therapy session, “I’m the only really scary one in the group” (see September 15-26, 2001). On October 16, 2001, one of Ivins’s colleagues tells a former colleague that “Bruce has been an absolute manic basket case the last few days.” This may be in response to the frantic pace of activity in his laboratory at the time. However, in 2000, an e-mail showed that he had feelings of being two people at once (see April-August 2000), and by December 2001, he begins writing poems to himself about this split personality sensation. He describes it as feeling there are “two people in one,” meaning “me + the person in my dreams.” In one poem set to the nursery rhyme “I’m a Little Teapot,” he writes: “I’m a little dream-self, short and stout. I’m the other half of Bruce—when he lets me out. When I get all steamed up, I don’t pout. I push Bruce aside, then I’m free to run about!” However, it seems that his problems are not recognized at his work place or not dealt with, even though he is working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins

A New York Times article reveals that the US has been secretly conducting research on biological weapons that likely violates an international treaty banning the use of biological weaponry. The article, by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, is titled, “US Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits.” The US signed an international treaty in 1972 that forbids countries from developing or acquiring weapons that could spread disease, but it allows work on vaccines and other protective measures.
Creating Deadlier Anthrax - Beginning during the Clinton administration, the US began genetically engineering a more potent variant of the anthrax bacterium. Supposedly, this was done to help the US come up with defenses against such a bacterium being used against the US by terrorists or another country. The research is being done in at the West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor. It is said to be in response to advances in anthrax research conducted by the Russians in the 1990s. The program is still in an experimental phase, but the National Security Council is expected to give the final approval later in September.
Other Secret Programs - The CIA has also built and tested a germ bomb, but removed several parts to keep it from being functional. And the Defense Department has built a mock germ factory in the Nevada desert to demonstrate how easily terrorists could build such a factory. Both these projects are said to use inert substances instead of real deadly germs.
Dubious Legality - An unnamed senior Bush administration official says all these projects are “fully consistent” with the biological weapons treaty. However, some Clinton administration officials say these projects violate the treaty. They point out that such experiments would draw loud protests from the US if a country deemed hostile to the US were performing them. The US recently rejected efforts to strengthen the biological weapons treaty an allow international inspections of biodefense laboratories in order to keep details of these recent projects secret. [New York Times, 9/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration

Category Tags: US Military Bioweapons, Battelle Memorial Institute

A bizarre love letter to Jennifer Lopez is received by The Sun, a tabloid newspaper with offices in Florida. The letter contains an empty can of chewing tobacco, a small detergent carton, a cigar tube with a cheap cigar, a cheap Star of David charm, and a folded handwritten letter to Jennifer Lopez with a pile of what looks like talcum powder in the middle of it. The writer describes his love for Lopez and asks her to marry him. The letter is handled both by Ernesto Blanco, who later contracts anthrax, and Bob Stevens, who later dies of anthrax. It is unknown what the return address is or what date the letter is postmarked, since its importance is only realized after it has been thrown away and people start getting sick. As a result, the FBI is never able to analyze it. [Newsweek, 10/8/2001; National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] However, others exposed to the letter, including Bobby Bender, the person who actually opens it, do not get sick later. [National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] Furthermore, the floor where the letter is opened and passed around will later turn out to be the least infected floor of the building, suggesting that the letter contained no real anthrax. But while the mail room in the basement is the most heavily infected part of the building, no other letter will be found that caused the infections there. [Center for Disease Control, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Ernesto Blanco, Bob Stevens, Jennifer Lopez, Bobby Bender

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks, Real Anthrax Attacks, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

On the evening after the 9/11 attacks, some White House personnel, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, are given the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, and told to take it regularly. [Associated Press, 10/24/2001] An unnamed “high government official” also advises some reporters to take Cipro shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Judicial Watch will later sue the Bush administration to release documents showing who knew what and when, and why presidential staff were protected while senators, congresspeople, and others were not. [Associated Press, 6/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judicial Watch

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

Richard Cohen.Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post journalist Richard Cohen will later write: “The [2001 anthrax] attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.” [Slate, 3/18/2008] He will explain on a different occasion, “On a tip, I asked my doctor early on to prescribe Cipro for me, only to find out that, insider though I thought I was, nearly everyone had been asking him for the same thing.” [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] A number of White House officials begin taking Cipro the evening of September 11, 2001 (see Evening, September 11, 2001). Also, on September 26, well before any reports of real anthrax attacks, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will write, “Americans are now confronted with the specter of terrorists in crop dusters and hazardous-waste trucks spreading really terrifying, deadly toxins like plague, smallpox, blister agents, nerve gas and botulism. Women I know in New York and Washington… share information on which pharmacies still have Cipro, Zithromax and Doxycycline, all antibiotics that can be used for anthrax, the way they once traded tips on designer shoe bargains.” [New York Times, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

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

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins

Former CIA Director James Woolsey makes a secret trip to Europe to find evidence that could link the Iraqi government to various terrorist attacks. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz funds and supports his trip. He visits Wales in a fruitless search for evidence to link Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see Late September 2001). But he also looks for evidence tying Iraq to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks once they become publicly known in early October (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Village Voice will later report, “Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohamed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.” [Village Voice, 11/21/2001] In late October, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the exile group opposed to Saddam Hussein, says it recently held meetings in London with him. [Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001] Woolsey is a prominent neoconservative and already has extensive links with the INC (see 2000). It is unknown exactly what Woolsey does in Europe, but his trip has an apparent effect on the media. In addition to numerous articles about Atta’s alleged Prague visit, some articles appear attempting to tie Atta and the Iraqi government to the anthrax attacks as well. For instance, on October 14, 2001, The Observer will report, “According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] And in late October, the London Times will not only report that Atta was given a vial of anthrax in Prague, but that he met with Iraqi agents numerous times all over Europe (see October 27, 2001). But no hard evidence will emerge supporting any of these allegations pushed by Woolsey.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Iraqi National Congress, Saddam Hussein, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Iraq

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Real Anthrax Attacks

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

Category Tags: Other Suspects, Battelle Memorial Institute

On September 20, 2001, a letter purporting to contain anthrax is postmarked in St. Petersburg and addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. On September 25, Erin O’Connor, an assistant to Brokaw, gets sick with cutaneous anthrax. During the first days of the anthrax investigation in early October, it will be assumed that O’Connor got sick from the St. Petersburg letter. A brief handwritten note is found in the letter with some powder. The note threatened biological attacks on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. The letter contains misspelled phrase “THE UNTHINKABEL” with the Ns reversed. On October 5, two more letters are sent from St. Petersburg that resemble to earlier letter to Brokaw. For instance, it is written in the same capitalized, blocked letters, the Ns are reversed, there are similar biological threats made, and there is a powdery substance inside. One of the letters is sent to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who is a co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, a book published just days earlier. The other letter is to Howard Troxler, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Troxler opened his letter on October 9 and Miller opened hers on October 12. But laboratory analysis soon determines that the powder in all three of the St. Petersburg letters is non-toxic. Furthermore, it is learned that a different letter containing real anthrax was sent to Tom Brokaw, explaining O’Connor’s infection. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Erin O’Connor, Judith Miller, Tom Brokaw, Howard Troxler

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Fraudulent 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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries

At the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey and a team of Justice and Defense Department officials fly to London on a US government plane to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Woolsey’s trip is in part the idea of neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie (see Late July or Early August 2001). It is the second such mission undertaken by Woolsey this year, as he made a similar trip in February (see February 2001). Woolsey is looking for evidence to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Observer, 10/14/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] While in Europe, Woolsey also attempts to link the Iraqi government to 9/11 and the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). But according to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] Newsweek will similarly report in 2004 that “the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004] The local police in Swansea are curious about Woolsey’s visit and they call the US embassy in London to clarify if Woolsey is visiting in an official capacity. This alerts the State Department and CIA of Woolsey’s trip for the first time, and apparently both agencies are upset. One intelligence consultant familiar with the trip will say, “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] It is through this contact that Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet learn of Woolsey’s mission (see September 19-20, 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, James Woolsey, Abdul Basit, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Iraq

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
bullet Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” [New York Times, 10/1/2001] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Henry Hyde, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq

The New York Times publishes an article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg entitled, “Some Experts Say US Is Vulnerable to a Germ Attack.” The article claims that the US “is inadequately prepared to confront bioterrorist attacks, according to a broad range of health experts and officials. The nation must develop new vaccines and treatments, they say, but it must also fortify its fragile public health infrastructure, the first line of defense in detecting and containing biological threats.” It further notes that since 9/11, “much of the discussion about bioterrorism has centered on a shortage of antibiotics and vaccines. But the bigger problem, officials agree, is a lack of basic public health infrastructure and preparedness that could thwart a terror attack or limit its effects. Doctors are poorly trained to recognize symptoms of infection with possible biological weapons, like plague and anthrax, which can resemble the flu.” Asha George, an expert on biological warfare, says, “We are not going to have a bomb fly out of the sky and land on somebody so that we can say, ‘Look, there’s a bomb, and we are all dying of anthrax.’ It is most likely going to be a covert release, and people will get sick and go to their hospitals, and the public health system will have to pick up on this.” Ironically, at the time this article is published, the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) have already begun and some people have started to get sick but have not been properly identified as having anthrax infections (see September 22-October 2, 2001). The article notes that since shortly after 9/11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have alerted state and local health departments to look for signs of illnesses that could be from a chemical or biological attack. The article also notes, “In the wake of the [9/11] attacks, some members of the public have developed intense fears of germ warfare, and are trying to stock up on their own supplies.” [New York Times, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Asha George

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Other Entries

After the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), government spending on bioweapons research skyrockets. For instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends $53 million on bioweapons research in 2001 and more than $1.6 billion in 2008. A total of more than $20 billion is spent on the field of research in the US from 2001 to 2008. When all projects underway in 2008 are completed, there will be ten times more space for working with the most dangerous substances, and thousands of additional scientists are working with deadly bioweapons agents. In 2008, research scholar Elisa Harris will comment that this surge in research using deadly germs “suggests that our biodefense program risks creating the very threat it is meant to fight.” [New York Times, 8/11/2008]

Entity Tags: United States National Institutes of Health, Elisa Harris

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: US Military Bioweapons

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, USAMRIID

The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress on October 2, 2001 (see October 2, 2001), but it is not well received by all. [US Congress, 10/2/2001] One day later, Senate Majority Leader and future anthrax target Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he doubts the Senate will take up this bill in the one week timetable the administration wants. As head of the Senate, Daschle has great power to block or slow passage of the bill. Attorney General John Ashcroft accuses Senate Democrats of dragging their feet. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] On October 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and future anthrax target Patrick Leahy (D-VT) accuses the Bush administration of reneging on an agreement on the bill. Leahy is in a key position to block or slow the bill. Some warn that “lawmakers are overlooking constitutional flaws in their rush to meet the administration’s timetable.” Two days later, Ashcroft complains about “the rather slow pace…over his request for law enforcement powers… Hard feelings remain.” [Washington Post, 10/4/2001] The anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy are sent out between October 6-9 as difficulties in passing the Patriot Act continue (see October 6-9, 2001).

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Tom Daschle, USA Patriot Act, Patrick J. Leahy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Patriot Act

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries, Real Anthrax Attacks

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, FBI Investigation, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

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, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries, Real Anthrax Attacks

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: FBI Investigation

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, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, Real Anthrax Attacks

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

In August 2008, the New York Daily News will report that after Robert Stevens is the first to die in the anthrax attacks on October 5, 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), White House officials repeatedly press FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove the attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda. According to an unnamed retired senior FBI official, Mueller was verbally “beaten up” during President Bush’s daily intelligence briefings for not producing proof linking the attacks to al-Qaeda. “They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” this FBI official will say. But within days, the FBI learned the anthrax was a difficult to make weapons-grade strain. “Very quickly, [experts at Fort Detrick, Maryland] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with. [Al-Qaeda] couldn’t go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.” But several days after this conclusion is reached, Bush and Cheney nonetheless make public statements suggesting al-Qaeda was the culprit (see October 15, 2001 and October 12, 2001). [New York Daily News, 8/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Al-Qaeda, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

On October 9, 2001, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) blocks an attempt to rush the Patriot Act to a vote with little debate and no opportunity for amendments. He criticizes the bill as a threat to civil liberties. [Associated Press, 10/10/2001] One day earlier, in the story “Cracks in Bipartisanship Start to Show,” the Washington Post reported, “Congress has lost some of the shock-induced unity with which it first responded to the [9/11] attacks.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2001] Also on October 9, identical anthrax letters are postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, with lethal doses to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Inside both letters are the words, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great” (see October 15, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Patriot Act

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

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons

Despite the fact that two US senators, Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), had letters laced with anthrax mailed to their offices (see October 6-9, 2001), the Bush administration’s response is, as later characterized by author Frank Rich, lackadaisical. “Bush said little about it,” Rich will write in 2006, instead “delegating the problem to ineffectual Cabinet members like [Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy] Thompson and the attorney general, John Ashcroft. The rank incompetence of these two Cabinet secretaries, at most thinly disguised by a veneer of supercilious officiousness, was farcical. They were Keystone Kops, in the costumes of bureaucrats, ready at any time to slip on a banana peel.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 34-35]

Entity Tags: Tommy G. Thompson, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: FBI Investigation, Other Entries

Vice President Dick Cheney suggests al-Qaeda could be behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Cheney tells PBS: “We know that [Osama bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons. We know that he’s trained people in his camps in Afghanistan. For example, we have copies of the manuals that they’ve actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances. So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it’s coincidence, but I must say I’m a skeptic.” He adds, “I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked.” [BBC, 10/13/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda

Gloria Irish.Gloria Irish. [Source: AP / St. Petersburg Times]The FBI confirms that Gloria Irish rented an apartment to two of the 9/11 hijackers. Her husband is Michael Irish, who is an editor of the Sun, a Florida tabloid newspaper, and the first victim of the anthrax attacks earlier this month. Bob Stevens, who also worked at the Sun, and several others at the tabloid offices were injured. The FBI says that Irish rented different apartments in Delray Beach, Florida, to hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Saeed Alghamdi during the summer of 2001. But one FBI spokesperson says, “Right now it looks like a coincidence,” and another calls it a “strange coincidence.” Two of the hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, also had subscriptions to the Sun. [Knight Ridder, 10/14/2001; Guardian, 10/16/2001] But Irish says “there is no way” the hijackers could have known about any Sun connection through her. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] Michael Irish is a licensed pilot who was a member of the Civil Air Patrol based at Lantana Airport. Atta reportedly rented a plane at that airport in August (see August 16-19, 2001). Stevens, who died of anthrax on October 5, also lived in Lantana. But there is no evidence that Irish or Stevens crossed paths with Atta. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/15/2001] The story will quickly die after nothing more is found to the connection.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Bob Stevens, Gloria Irish, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation, Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

The Observer reports that investigators of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) believe Iraq is the prime suspect. One CIA source says, “They aren’t making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn’t look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] However, this theory only remains the predominant one for a few days. On October 19, the New York Times is dismissive of the Iraq theory and suggests al-Qaeda or a disgruntled American loner could be behind the attacks instead (see October 19, 2001). In November, the American loner theory will become predominant (see November 10, 2001). But in late 2002, with war against Iraq growing increasingly likely, the Iraq theory appears to make a comeback (see October 28, 2002).

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq, Other Entries

At a press conference in Italy, President Bush says “there may be some possible link” between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and al-Qaeda. He adds: “We have no hard data yet, but it’s clear that [Osama] bin Laden is a man who’s an evil man. He and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country. So we’re watching every piece of evidence.” [CNN, 10/15/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda

The envelope to the Tom Daschle letter.The envelope to the Tom Daschle letter. [Source: FBI]Two Democratic senators are targets of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). On this day, Senator Tom Daschle’s office opens a letter mailed October 9, containing a lethal dose of anthrax (see October 6-9, 2001). A similar letter to Senator Patrick Leahy mailed the same day and from the same location is misrouted to Virginia on October 12, and is not discovered until November 17. Neither Leahy nor Daschle come into contact with the anthrax, but some of Daschle’s staffers do. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: P. Patrick Leahy, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

Not long after people start dying from the anthrax attacks in October 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), future suspect Bruce Ivins works with the FBI team investigating the attacks. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He and about 90 USAMRIID colleagues work long hours to test thousands of samples of suspect powder to see if they contain real anthrax. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] There are about 100 people in USAMRIID’s bacteriological division, including technicians and assistants. [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Within days of the attacks being discovered, there are about six people crowded at Ivins’s desk working on the anthrax, and other desks at USAMRIID are similarly crowded. Ivins helps analyze one of the letters containing real anthrax, the one sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), and goes to the Pentagon to discuss the results of his testing with officials there. 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. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter.The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter. [Source: FBI]The 2006 book Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn will reveal that, at some point in October 2001, “[Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne] Downing, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, and other proponents of a war with Iraq thought they had yet more ammunition for the case against Saddam” Hussein in the form of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Author Laurie Mylroie, who had long suggested Iraq was behind numerous terrorist attacks against the US and whose ideas are influential with Wolfowitz and other Bush administration officials (see October 2000 and Late July or Early August 2001), quickly asserts that Iraq is behind the anthrax attacks as well. “An early forensic test of the anthrax letters (which was later disputed) appeared to show that the anthrax spores were highly refined and ‘weaponized.’ To the Iraq hawks, the news was electric. ‘This is definitely Saddam!’ Downing shouted to several White House aides. One of these aides later recalled overhearing Downing excitedly sharing the news over the phone with Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith. ‘I had the feeling they were high-five-ing each other,’ the White House official said.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Laurie Mylroie, Douglas Feith, Wayne Downing

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq

Twenty-eight congressional staffers test positive for anthrax. The Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] None of the staffers are killed by the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001).

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bob Woodward, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq, Al-Qaeda

On October 18, 2001, an alarm in the White House situation room allegedly goes off, indicating that sensors have detected dangerous levels of WMD agents. Vice President Cheney and others in the situation room at the time are said to believe that they have been exposed. Due to the recent anthrax attacks, Cheney allegedly is convinced that he has been subjected to a lethal dose of anthrax. This is according to the 2008 book The Dark Side by journalist Jane Mayer. An anonymous former administration officer will tell Mayer, “They thought Cheney was already lethally infected.” However, it is soon discovered that the sensors had malfunctioned and there was no danger. But Mayer will claim that the incident contributed to Cheney’s paranoia and his desire to use hard-line tactics such as torture in combating terrorism. Mayer will say that, after the incident, “a sense of constant danger followed Cheney everywhere.” When he is not in one of his several “undisclosed locations” (usually underground bunkers), he travels with a doctor and a bag containing a gas mask and biochemical survival suit. [ABC News, 7/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Patriot Act, Other Entries

Chase Brandon.Chase Brandon. [Source: Daily Mail]An episode of the CBS drama series, The Agency, about a planned terrorist attack in the United States using anthrax was scheduled to be broadcast on this day, but is postponed in response to the actual anthrax attacks taking place in the US. [Variety, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 10/17/2001; People, 11/6/2001] The Agency shows the CIA tackling problems of national security, taking on villains such as Arab terrorists and Colombian drug dealers. [Guardian, 9/6/2001; Guardian, 10/5/2001]
German Terrorist Plans to Attack Washington with Anthrax - The episode, titled “A Slight Case of Anthrax,” which was filmed in August, features a German man who is planning to attack Washington, DC, using anthrax sprayed from a crop duster plane. The man has acquired the same anthrax that the US government developed and sold to Iraq when it was an ally. The CIA discovers that he was behind an anthrax attack in Belgium, and Washington is his next intended target. CIA agents then scramble to stop the terrorist before he can reach the capital. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/29/2001; E! Online, 11/2/2001; People, 11/6/2001; Jenkins, 2012, pp. 68] Al-Qaeda was originally going to be responsible for the anthrax attacks in the storyline, according to Michael Frost Beckner, who wrote the episode. However, CBS said: “This al-Qaeda thing, you’ve got to get off that. No one is interested. Trust us.” The episode was consequently redrafted so that it featured “Iraqis making an anthrax attack through German terrorist proxies.” [Hollywood, Health and Society, 4/2/2002 pdf file]
Episode Canceled due to Actual Anthrax Attacks - The US is currently in the middle of a series of terrorist attacks using anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] Anthrax has been discovered in three states and the District of Columbia in the past two weeks. At least 13 people either have anthrax or were exposed to its spores, and one person has died. The episode of The Agency about anthrax attacks is therefore canceled and is replaced with another episode of the show. CBS spokesman Chris Ender explains, “We certainly don’t want to do anything to add to the country’s fears about anthrax.” [E! Online, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 10/17/2001] “A Slight Case of Anthrax” was in fact going to be broadcast a week ago, on October 11, but had to be rescheduled because President Bush decided to hold a prime-time news conference that evening. [Variety, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 10/17/2001]
Storyline Was Suggested by CIA Liaison - Gail Katz, one of the show’s executive producers, will later suggest why the storyline about anthrax so closely resembles real-world events, commenting: “This is a series which is dealing with reality. It has to deal with threats like this that concern us.” [E! Online, 11/2/2001] Bazzel Baz, a former CIA operative who is a technical adviser for The Agency, will say, “We know how the CIA works, so if we write a script about anthrax or about a bomb or about an assassination or about bin Laden, it’s probably going to happen.” [CNN, 10/30/2001] Tracey Rabb, the show’s publicist, will comment, “[Y]ou really can’t do a serious drama about the CIA without colliding with topical events.” [People, 11/6/2001] However, Beckner will reveal that the storyline for “A Slight Case of Anthrax” was suggested to him by Chase Brandon, the CIA’s entertainment liaison officer. Author Tricia Jenkins will note that this means it “originated from the CIA.” [Jenkins, 2012, pp. 66] The CIA has in fact cooperated extensively with the producers of The Agency, such as by reviewing the show’s scripts. [New York Times, 8/26/2001]
Episode Airs in November - “A Slight Case of Anthrax” will finally be broadcast on November 8. [E! Online, 11/2/2001; People, 11/6/2001] The pilot episode of The Agency, which features a storyline in which Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist group plots to blow up a department store in London, was also canceled and will be broadcast on November 1 (see September 27, 2001). [New York Times, 9/29/2001; South Florida Sun Sentinel, 10/25/2001; Hollywood, Health and Society, 4/2/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: CBS, Bazzel Baz, Chris Ender, Gail Katz, Michael Frost Beckner, Tracey Rabb

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Other Entries

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appears on the Late Show with David Letterman. Asked on how the recent US invasion of Afghanistan is progressing, McCain says, “I think we’re doing fine… The second phase… the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.… If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.” [Think Progress, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: John McCain

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq

The Canadian government overrides Bayer’s patent for the anthrax antibiotic Cipro and orders a million tablets of a generic version from another company. The US government says it is not considering a similar move. Patent lawyers and politicians state that adjusting Bayer’s patent to allow other companies to produce Cipro is perfectly legal and necessary. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] The New York Times notes that the White House seems “so avidly to be siding with the rights of drug companies to make profits rather than with consumers worried about their access to the antibiotic Cipro,” and points out huge recent contributions by Bayer to Republicans. [New York Times, 10/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), White House, Bayer

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post.The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post. [Source: FBI]The New York Times suggests there could be a link between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and the 9/11 hijackers. The Times reports that investigators “say they suspect that the rash of contaminated letters is related to the Sept. 11 attacks and are investigating the possibility that al-Qaeda confederates of the hijackers are behind the incidents.… Senior government officials said investigators were focusing on the ability of the hijackers or their accomplices to obtain highly refined anthrax from a foreign or domestic supplier. While they have not ruled out the possibility that another criminal could be behind the anthrax attacks, investigators are looking intensely at evidentiary threads linking the letters to the hijackers.”
Little to No Evidence behind this Theory - FBI agents are said to have recently searched the Jersey City home of three men arrested on suspicion of links to the 9/11 attacks after learning they kept some magazines and newspaper articles about biological warfare there. These men include Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Azmath. Both men will later be cleared of having any al-Qaeda ties (see October 20, 2001). The hijackers did show some interest in crop dusters, which could be used in a biological attack, but a senior government official says no actual evidence has appeared linking any of the hijackers to the anthrax attacks in any way.
Domestic Loner Theory - The article notes that the FBI is also pursuing a competing theory, “that a disgruntled employee of a domestic laboratory that uses anthrax carried out the attacks.” However, no evidence has emerged yet to support this.
Iraq Not Likely - The article is dismissive of theories that Iraq or another foreign government was behind the attacks. It notes that the anthrax letters used the Ames strain of anthrax, and experts say the Iraqi government never obtained that strain. For instance, former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “The Iraqis tried to get it but didn’t succeed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq, FBI Investigation

Former US soldier and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter decries efforts to blame the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) on the Iraqi government. Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when inspections stopped. He points out that during these inspections, Iraq’s biological weapons programs were completely dismantled. For instance, al Hakum, Iraq’s biological weapons production facility where all its anthrax was produced, was blown up and all its equipment was destroyed (see 1998). He also says that when Iraq did have an anthrax program, it exclusively used the Vollum strain of anthrax, whereas evidence already points to the likelihood that the anthrax attacks used the US-based Ames strain. Ritter concludes: “Those who have suggested that Iraq is the source of the anthrax used in the current attacks—including Richard Butler, a former chairman of the UN weapons inspection effort—merely fan the flames of fear and panic. There is no verifiable link whatever and it is irresponsible for someone of Mr Butler’s stature to be involved in unsubstantiated speculation.” [Guardian, 10/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Scott Ritter, Richard Butler

Category Tags: Iraq

The Bayer Corporation, holders of the US patent on the anthrax antibiotic Cipro, agrees with the US to reduce the price of Cipro in the US from $1.83 to 95 cents. Analysts say the price reduction will reduce Bayer’s profit margin from 95% to 65%. This reduction applies only to sales to the US government, not sales to the public. [New York Times, 11/4/2001] Bayer has allowed no other companies to produce or import Cipro into the US. Other countries with less stringent patent laws sell Cipro for 1/30th the US price, and have offered to import large quantities into the US. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Nevertheless, a class action suit by over one million Americans has been filed against Bayer and two other companies, alleging that Bayer has paid $200 million to two competitors to not make generic versions of Cipro. [Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, 10/25/2001] The profits from Cipro are considered a “lifesaver” for Bayer, which had been considering pulling out of pharmaceuticals altogether. [Guardian, 10/31/2001]

Entity Tags: Bayer

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

The New York Times reports that health officials and experts believe numerous other drugs are as effective as the antibiotic Cipro in combating anthrax. “Several generic antibiotics, including doxycycline, a kind of tetracycline, and various penicillins, are also effective against the disease,” and they all are in plentiful supply. [New York Times, 10/23/2001] A 1997 Pentagon study of anthrax in rhesus monkeys showed the other drugs to be equally effective. But Cipro remains the only drug officially recommended by the FDA (see July 27, 2000). [New York Times, 10/21/2001]

Entity Tags: US Food and Drug Administration

Category Tags: Cipro / Bayer

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer makes a comment about the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He says: “There is a suspicion that this is connected to international terrorists. Having said that, investigators also do not rule out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone person operating doing this, or it could be terrorism. The suspicion is that it is terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this point to lead anybody who is investigating these matters to reach a conclusion on any of these sources.” [Voice of America, 10/23/2001] The same day, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) echoes Fleisher’s comment and links the attacks to overseas terrorists. He says, “I don’t think there’s a way to prove that, but I think we all suspect that.” [US Department of State, 10/23/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will say that, at the time it was widely believed that the anthrax attacks were somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks several weeks before. He will cite Fleischer and Gephardt’s comments as one reason why so many made the connection. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Richard Cohen, Richard Gephardt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda

The House of Representatives passes the final version of the Patriot Act and other previously unpopular Bush administration projects: Alaska oil drilling, $25 billion in tax cuts for corporations, taps into Social Security funds, and cuts in education. [CNN, 10/25/2001] Republican Congressman Ron Paul states: “It’s my understanding the bill wasn’t printed before the vote—at least I couldn’t get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote.” It is later found that only two copies of the bill were made available in the hours before its passage, and most House members admit they voted for the act without actually reading it first. [Insight, 11/9/2001] Two days later, the Senate will pass the final version of the Patriot Act. Anthrax targets Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 15, 2001) now support the bill. President Bush signs it into law the same day (see October 26, 2001). [Fox News, 10/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Patrick J. Leahy, Ron Paul

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Patriot Act

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons

A Reuters/Zogby poll indicates that 74 percent of US registered voters want to attack Iraq as well as Afghanistan. When asked if the “war on terrorism” should be expanded to include Iraq, 56 percent of respondents say they “strongly agree” and 18 percent “somewhat agree”, while 10 percent said they “strongly disagree” and 12 percent said they “somewhat disagree” with the idea. [Washington Times, 10/26/2001]

Category Tags: Iraq

On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).

Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Iraq

The US government no longer thinks al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Washington Post reports in a front-page story: “Top FBI and CIA officials believe that the anthrax attacks… are likely the work of one or more extremists in the United States who are probably not connected to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, government officials said yesterday.” An unnamed senior official adds, “Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation.” The Post suggests neo-Nazi and/or right-wing hate groups could be behind it. [Washington Post, 10/27/2001] Not long after, the FBI releases a profile of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. He is suspected of being a lone, male domestic terrorist, with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden, Taha Yasin Ramadan, Uday Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq

Robert Bartley, conservative editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes an editorial in his newspaper strongly suggesting that Iraq is behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says the possibility should be considered that “the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” He also draws on the controversial and eventually discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, for instance claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), and the controversial and eventually discredited reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi spy in Prague. He concludes, “Saddam Hussein has the motive, means and opportunity to mount terrorism, and the anthrax attacks fit his modus operandi. There is plenty of reason to presume he’s behind the current attacks, with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as a front or ally. In any event, given his capabilities and intentions, he remains a threat to American lives as long as he’s at large.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Robert Bartley, James Woolsey

Category Tags: Iraq

In a speech, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks as the “first attack,” and then discusses the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). “The second attack against America came in the mail. We do not know whether this attack came from the same terrorists. We don’t know the origin of the anthrax. But whoever did this unprecedented and uncivilized act is a terrorist.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Other Suspects, Other Entries

Th Los Angeles Times reports, “The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage…” The FBI is said to base this conclusion on “case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence.” FBI investigators say they are looking for “an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax.” They believe he is an “anti-social loner” who “has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.” However, these investigators admit that psychological profiling is a rough science, especially since they have little more than a small number of words written on the anthrax-laced letters. The letters appear to have tried to frame Muslims for the attacks. For instance, each letter contains the phrase “Allah is great.” Investigators say they are not completely ruling out an overseas connection to the letters, such as an Iraqi or Russian connection, but they consider it very unlikely. Investigators have not explained why they are so confident the attacks were caused by only one person. [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Iraq, Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

Between November 10 and 12, 2001, trace amounts of anthrax are found in the offices of eleven senators. The offices infected include those of Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Jon Corzine (D-NJ). But officials say the anthrax does not threaten the health of anyone who worked or visited there. On October 15, an anthrax letter addressed to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was opened at the Hart Senate office building (see October 15, 2001), and it is assumed the anthrax found came from this letter. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Jon Corzine, Richard Lugar, Barbara Boxer, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

Asif Kasi.Asif Kasi. [Source: New York Times / Jessica Kourkounis]The FBI investigates three Pakistani-born city officials in Chester, Pennsylvania, for possible roles in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The three are Asif Kazi, an accountant in the city’s finance department, Dr. Irshad Shaikh, the city’s health commissioner, and his brother Dr. Masood Shaikh, who runs the city’s lead-abatement program. Kazi is in his city hall office when FBI agents burst in and interrogate him. He is questioned for hours about an unknown liquid he had been seen carrying out of his house. In fact, the dishwasher had broken down and he was bailing out his kitchen. Meanwhile, agents with drawn guns knock down the front door to his house while his wife is cooking in the kitchen. Dozens of boxes are carried out of the house. Agents in bioprotection suits also search the Shaikh brothers’ house and carry away their computers. None of the three ever had any connection to anthrax and none of them are arrested. The searches are national news for several days, severely damaging their reputations. Three days after the raid, an FBI agent tells the Washington Post that the raid did not pan out. The FBI learns that a disgruntled employee had called in a bogus tip. But the FBI never publicly clears them. [Washington Post, 11/15/2001; Newsweek, 8/4/2002; New York Times, 8/9/2008] Even a year later, an FBI spokesperson says the raids are still “a pending matter.” [Associated Press, 9/5/2002] Trouble for the three men will continue. The Shaikh brothers’ applications for US citizenship is blocked, their visas run out, and they both eventually have to leave the US. Kazi is already a US citizen, but he is put on a no-fly watch list. He is searched and interrogated for a couple of hours every time he travels in or out of the US. His name will finally be taken off the list in 2007. [New York Times, 8/9/2008]

Entity Tags: Asif Kazi, Masood Shaikh, Irshad Shaikh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Other Suspects, FBI Investigation

Dr. Antonio Banfi.Dr. Antonio Banfi. [Source: Public domain]A letter containing anthrax is mailed to Dr. Antonio Banfi, a pediatrician in Santiago, Chile. Although the return address is Orlando, Florida, the postmark is Zurich, Switzerland. The letter is sent via DHL, which uses a Swiss bulk mail shipper in New York and a Swiss postmark. Unlike the anthrax letters with US addressees, the letter to Chile is mailed in a business envelope and has a typewritten return address, a business in Florida. Dr. Banfi receives the letter, but finds it suspicious and gives it to the Chilean authorities. No one is known to have been infected with the material contained in the letter. The letter baffles American and Chilean officials because, according to the New York Times, “as they dig deeper, nothing quite adds up.” The New York Times article states, without direct evidence and with ambiguous citation of unnamed “officials” from either Chile or the US, that the anthrax strain most likely originated in Chile, despite the Swiss origin of the letter. The strain is reported to be a different one than used in the US attacks, and is said to be similar to a strain in Turkey. Dr. Banfi says he has no strong political views or known enemies. [New York Times, 11/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Anto­nio Banfi

Category Tags: Other Entries

In mid-November 2001, a second anthrax letter appears in Senator Tom Daschle’s office. According to a later Washington Post article, “This [letter] had passed through irradiation equipment to kill anthrax spores, and the powdery material packed in the envelope tested benign.” Details about the letter are scanty, but it is known that it is postmarked in mid-November from London. The white powder apparently is harmless talc. The letter contains similar language to the real anthrax letters, except the phrase “Stop the bombing” is added. Scientist Steven Hatfill, who is already starting to come under suspicion for the anthrax attacks (see Late 2001), is in Britain at the time, attending a specialized training course to become a UN weapons inspector in Iraq. The course takes place about 70 miles from London. This increases suspicions on Hatfill and the FBI asks British police to help retrace his every move. But it is never shown that he had anything to do with the letter. It is unknown if the letter contains any writing or other clues that would match the deadly anthrax letters. [Associated Press, 1/4/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

The Washington Post publishes an article suggesting a possible link between the anthrax attacks and the Iraqi government. But despite the title “Anthrax Type That Killed May Have Reached Iraq,” the evidence of a link presented in the article is not very strong. It is generally believed that Iraq was unable to acquire the Ames strain of anthrax. But the article says that two Iraqi officials attended a scientific conference in Britain in 1988 and were attempting to obtain various strains of anthrax, including the Ames strain. Shortly after the visit, Iraq’s trade ministry attempted to order some anthrax samples from the British government, including the Ames strain. At the time, Iraq has good relations with the US and other Western countries, but the order was nonetheless rejected over fears the Iraqis might want to use the anthrax in a bioweapons program. Former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “We know that Iraq was very keen on obtaining that specific strain as well as others, and they were contacting many countries of the world.… But we simply don’t know [if Iraq was successful.]” However, from 1991 to 1998, UN inspectors monitored Iraq with on-site searches and never saw any evidence that Iraq was using the Ames strain. [Washington Post, 11/25/2001] One month later, it will be reported that all efforts to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq have been unsuccessful (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq

A USAMRIID technician opening one of the anthrax letters in December 2001.A USAMRIID technician opening one of the anthrax letters in December 2001. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]A front-page Washington Post story suggests that the Ames strain of anthrax used in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) likely originated from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and was shared with only a small number of other labs. USAMRIID gave it to the Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio; the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the Defense Research Establishment Suffield, in Canada; the US Army Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah; and the Chemical Defense Establishment at Porton Down, Britain. These in turn sent it to seven more labs, for a total of a dozen. But only five labs received the virulent form, and some of these may have received strains that were too old to have been the Anthrax used in the mailings, since it is known the anthrax used was two years old or less. [Washington Post, 11/30/2001; New York Times, 6/23/2002]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: USAMRIID, US Military Bioweapons, Battelle Memorial Institute, Dugway Proving Ground

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

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Other Suspects, Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons

Security records indicate that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, extensively uses a “hot suite” laboratory in the evenings and at weekends around the times when the 2001 anthrax attacks letters are mailed (see Mid-August-October 2001). The security records are based on swipes of magnetized plastic access cards, and Ivins is the only one out of a handful of anthrax researchers at USAMRIID make such use of the laboratory. The Los Angeles Times will later note that these records were easily available to investigators in late 2001, but it is unknown when investigators first make note of them. [Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008] Ivins will not be questioned about his after hours lab work until 2005 (see March 31, 2005).

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. [WorldNetDaily, 8/7/2008] Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. [Newsweek, 8/9/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

FBI agents begin questioning scientists at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, about the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). One person apparently questioned at this time is Bruce Ivins. [Los Angeles Times, 8/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

Shortly after the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), suspicions focus on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, as one of the few places where people would have the skills to make the anthrax. In December 2001, one USAMRIID scientist raises the issue of possible anthrax contamination in the lab. Another USAMRIID scientist, Bruce Ivins, takes it upon himself to investigate. He discovers traces of anthrax near his desk, which is away from the lab facilities where he and others work with anthrax and other dangerous substances. He swabs the area clean and decontaminates it. Then he delays filing a report about this for three months. The FBI is suspicious of this, and begins to consider Ivins as a possible suspect. But in sworn statements to the Army in May 2002, Ivins says he avoided filing a report because he did not want to cause an uproar in the facility with people worrying that they were contaminated. He also suggests that a sloppy lab technician could have spread anthrax from secured work spaces to unsecured ones including the desk area. The Army finishes a 300-plus page report that same month. The report concludes the anthrax contamination was accidental and not potentially deadly, and no discipline is recommended against anyone. But after Ivins’s death in 2008, the unnamed officer who wrote the report will say: “Of course I think [Ivins’s cleaning of the area] was a cover-up.… He was trying to clean up the material” used in the anthrax letters. The report is made available to the FBI, but it is unknown if the FBI makes use of it at the time. By this time, the FBI is more interested in investigating former USAMRIID scientist Steven Hatfill and they put aside their concerns about Ivins. Instead, Ivins remains deeply involved in assisting the FBI’s anthrax investigation (see April 2002). [ABC News, 8/1/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, Other Suspects, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

Dugway Proving Ground.Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, US Department of the Army, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, US Military Bioweapons

The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton.The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton. [Source: Richard Smith]In mid-October 2001, investigators mistakenly believe that the anthrax letters were mailed from somewhere in West Trenton, New Jersey and are said to have narrowed down the location of the mailbox to a one square mile radius. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] But around December 2001, contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicates that the letters in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes near Princeton, New Jersey. However, seven months pass before FBI investigators test hundreds of mailboxes and identify the mailbox where the letters were mailed from. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose congressional district includes the area where the letters were mailed from, will later say that he was surprised by how slow and shoddy the investigation was. He will point out, “Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes.” He will also say that he was surprised when anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001, but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] The FBI tests about 600 mailboxes for several weeks and finds and removes the right one in early August. It is located in Princeton, New Jersey, on the corner of Nassau and Bank Streets and opposite the Princeton University campus. [New York Times, 8/14/2002] However, there are doubts that the right mailbox was identified (see August 14, 2002).

Entity Tags: Rush Holt, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: FBI Investigation, Real Anthrax Attacks

On December 17, 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer speaks of the anthrax attacks investigation and says that it is “increasingly looking like it was a domestic source.” On January 13, 2002, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge similarly states, “the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward.” [Salon, 2/8/2002] This is confirmation of earlier reports that the investigation is focusing on the profile of a disgruntled American scientist acting alone (see November 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: FBI Investigation

The FBI is now investigating “whether potential profit from the sale of anthrax medications or cleanup efforts may have motivated” the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Battelle, a company doing anthrax work for the CIA, mostly at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio, is the company most discussed in a Washington Post story about this. Dozens of scientists at Battelle have been interviewed by the FBI already because it is one of only a few places where weaponized anthrax has been made. [Washington Post, 12/21/2001] The story comes one day after ABC News reported a Battelle scientist is under investigation for the anthrax attacks, but that story is quickly denied (see September 18-28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Battelle, Battelle Memorial Institute, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Other Suspects, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, Battelle Memorial Institute

The New York Times reports, “Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.” However, the effort eventually fizzled out when no evidence was found to back up the claim. A top federal scientist involved in the investigation says, “I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq.” An unnamed senior intelligence official says: “We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this [Iraq connection], or any foreign source. It’s just not there.” As a result of this Iraq focus, only recently have FBI investigators concentrated on suspects within the US. The anthrax used in the attacks was from the Ames strain, which is a strain most commonly used in US bioweapons programs. Initial evidence strongly suggested that the Iraqi government was never able to obtain the Ames strain, but investigators nonetheless spent a considerable amount of time looking into the issue. Investigators promoted the idea that the anthrax spores were coated with bentonite, an additive supposedly used by Iraqi scientists. But the anthrax used in the attacks actually did not have bentonite coating. The Times notes that investigators say they are not close to identifying any suspect, and, “Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve…” [New York Times, 12/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq, FBI Investigation

Claire Fraser-Liggett.Claire Fraser-Liggett. [Source: University of Maryland]In late 2001, the FBI decides to try to decode the entire DNA sequence of the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for its anthrax attacks investigation. There are about five million units in the genome. The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a leader in decoding microbe genomes, is given this task. TIGR director Claire Fraser-Liggett forms a small team of scientists. By early 2002, this TIGR team completes the genome. Then they compare the anthrax used in the letter sent to the Sun tabloid to a sample of the same strain, the Ames strain, maintained at Porton Down, the British biological weapons facility. The team finds several differences between the samples, raising the possibility that they could learn exactly which laboratory the anthrax used in the attacks came from. The team then looks at the original Ames strain, taken from a dead cow in Texas in 1981, to attempt to see how the anthrax in the letter evolved from the original. By late 2002, this task is finished but investigators are disappointed to learn that there are almost no noticeable differences between the original Ames strain and the anthrax used in the attacks. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Institute for Genomic Research, Claire Fraser-Liggett

Category Tags: FBI Investigation

The FBI finally begins subpoenaing laboratories that worked with the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks. But when the labs start to send their samples, they are told to wait another month because a new storage room for the sample needs to be built. The Hartford Courant reports, “The FBI’s delay in requesting the samples - and the government’s lack of readiness to receive them - is part of a pattern.” Other examples include taking seven months to begin testing mailboxes surrounding Princeton, New Jersey, where the anthrax letters were postmarked (see December 2001-Early August 2002), and nearly a year to go back into the American Media building in Boca Raton, Florida, to hunt for the source of anthrax that killed the first victim there. [Hartford Courant, 9/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

Steven Hatfill, later to emerge as a suspect of the anthrax attacks, is interviewed by FBI investigators for the first time. He is then given a lie-detector test as part of a wide-ranging FBI review of the scientific community. Hatfill is later told he gave satisfactory answers on the test. The FBI returns for a two-hour interview in March. [Washington Post, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, FBI Investigation

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

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, FBI Investigation

Don Foster.Don Foster. [Source: Al Novak]October 12, 2001, the FBI contracted Don Foster to help with the newly formed anthrax attacks investigation. Foster is a professor of English literature at Vassar College who has been advising the FBI and other government agencies for years due to his expertise in writing analysis. He has sometimes correctly guessed the identities of anonymous authors by analyzing their word usage, not their handwriting styles. By studying news reports of hoax anthrax letters, Foster begins to get interested in Steven Hatfill as a potential suspect. Hatfill had appeared as an expert on biological attacks in some articles dating back to 1998, and he has a curious history while living in Zimbabwe and South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the racist white government of Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) possibly launched an anthrax attack on their own black citizens. Foster will write in 2003, “When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats, those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.” Around February 2002, Foster suggests Hatfill’s name to FBI headquarters as a candidate suspect. But he is told that Hatfill has a good alibi. A month later, he puts forward Hatfill’s name again but is told that people in the Defense Department, State Department, and the CIA have vouched for Hatfill. William Patrick, one of the most respected bioterrorism experts, is Hatfill’s mentor and also vouches for him (see Early March 2002). In April 2002, Foster meets with Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, who has been publicly putting forth theories on who she thinks is behind the anthrax attacks (see February-June 2002). He learns that she has independently come to the same conclusion, that Hatfill should be the prime suspect. Foster will later write that the FBI was “prodded publicly by Rosenberg and privately by myself” to investigate Hatfill more closely. Foster will apparently be eased out of the FBI’s anthrax investigation when he requests some documents to analyze and the FBI does not show them to him. He will write an article in Vanity Fair in 2003 that will strongly imply Hatfill could be behind the anthrax attacks. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Don Foster

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, FBI Investigation

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

Category Tags: FBI Investigation, Other Suspects, USAMRIID, Dugway Proving Ground

Anthrax under magnification.Anthrax under magnification. [Source: T. W. Geisbert / USAMRIID]Scientist Bruce Ivins submits a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even though the FBI has reason to believe the anthrax could have come from USAMRIID (see Mid-October 2001 and Winter 2001). Ivins is using a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029. A subpoena dated February 22, 2002 is issued to Ivins and other scientists, telling them to submit samples of their anthrax. Ivins submits his sample on February 27, apparently before he receives the subpoena. He is the only scientist to submit a sample before getting the subpoena. He had been discussing with investigators what kind of protocol to use for the samples, so he is familiar with the desire for the samples and how to submit them, but he does not completely the protocol with his sample. The FBI will soon destroy the sample he submits because it has not been prepared using the protocol, which is necessary for it to be used as valid evidence in trial. In April 2002, Ivins will submit a second anthrax sample. Around 2004, scientists will discover some unique genetic markers to the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and will start comparing that anthrax to other anthrax. No match will be found between Ivins’s April 2002 sample and the anthrax used in the attacks. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, keeps duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, it will be discovered that he still has a copy of Ivins’s February 2002 sample. A match will be discovered between that RMR-1029 sample and the sample from the attacks (see Early 2007). However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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