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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Al-Qaeda

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

In June 2001, Ahmed Alhaznawi visited the emergency room of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and was treated for a skin lesion. He was accompanied by Ziad Jarrah. In October 2001, after a series of mysterious anthrax attacks in the US became front-page news (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the treating doctor told the FBI he recognized the two hijackers and thought the wound was consistent with cutaneous anthrax exposure. However, the FBI discounted the possibility that the anthrax attacks originated with the hijackers or al-Qaeda. In March 2002, the New York Times reports that FBI spokesman John Collingwood “said the possibility of a connection between the hijackers and the anthrax attacks had been deeply explored. ‘This was fully investigated and widely vetted among multiple agencies several months ago… Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been.’” [New York Times, 3/23/2002] The FBI is criticized by the neoconservative Weekly Standard for focusing its investigation on a possible domestic perpetrator rather that Iraq or al-Qaeda: “Based on the publicly available evidence, there appears to be no convincing rationale for the FBI’s nearly exclusive concentration on American suspects. And the possibility is far from foreclosed that the anthrax bioterrorist was just who he said he was: a Muslim, impliedly from overseas.” [Weekly Standard, 4/29/2002] In March 2002 it is also reported that US forces in Afghanistan have discovered installations that could have been used by al-Qaeda to produce biological weapons. “US forces recently discovered a site near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar that appeared to be an al-Qaeda biological weapons lab under construction. At the lab, ‘there was evidence of the attempt, by bin Laden, to get his hands on weapons of mass destruction, anthrax, or a variety of others,’ Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, said… in an interview.” [CBS News, 3/23/2002] However, little new evidence will subsequently come out suggesting al-Qaeda was behind the October 2001 anthrax attacks.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Alhaznawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

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