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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Real Anthrax Attacks

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

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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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF pdf file; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site.  Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples.  The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]

Entity Tags: FBI Headquarters, Dugway Proving Ground, National Academy of Sciences, Battelle Memorial Institute, “Justice Department”, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: Real Anthrax Attacks, Battelle Memorial Institute, Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons, Bruce Ivins

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