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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

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

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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

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 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 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

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 envelope mailed to the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office.The envelope mailed to the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office. [Source: FBI]The Connecticut State Attorney’s Office receives a threatening letter containing a white powdery substance. The letter, addressed to US Attorney John A. Danaher, mentions anthrax, and references Osama bin Laden. Laboratory analysis will confirm that the white powder does not contain anthrax or any other toxins. The office will be closed for two days. The letter is later found to have been mailed from a prison in Cheshire, Connecticut, and the mailer is soon identified as inmate Noel Davila. Davila will confess to preparing and mailing the letter. He will be convicted of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction, and will be sentenced to 35 years in prison. [Associated Press, 9/23/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Noel Davila, John A. Danaher

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

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