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Immunologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet, Nobel prize winner and first winner of the ‘Australian of the Year’ award, urges the Australian government to develop biological and chemical weapons to use against Indonesia and other countries of Southeast Asia. In 1998, Canberra historian Philip Dorling will obtaim a declassified 1947 report from the Australian National Archives which reveals that in his advisory role on biological warfare, Burnet had recommended development of biological and chemical weapons to target food crops and spread infectious diseases in the “overpopulated” tropical countries of Southeast Asia. “Specifically to the Australian situation, the most effective counter-offensive to threatened invasion by overpopulated Asiatic countries would be directed towards the destruction by biological or chemical means of tropical food crops and the dissemination of infectious disease capable of spreading in tropical but not under Australian conditions,” Burnet writes. [Age (Melbourne), 3/10/2002]
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]
The Asbestos Work Group, a joint effort between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), concludes that “[e]xcessive cancer risks… have been demonstrated at all [asbestos] fiber concentrations studied to date. Evaluation of all available human data provides no evidence for a threshold or for a ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure.” In very clear terms, the study adds that “there is no level of exposure below which clinical effects do not occur.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4/1980 ]
Rock Hudson shortly before his death. [Source: Southern Voice]Actor Rock Hudson, a close friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, dies of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The virus was identified in 1983, but until now has been ignored by the Reagan administration. With the death of Hudson, Reagan will call AIDS research a “top priority” for his administration. However, Reagan immediately proposes spending cuts that would slash funding for such research. [PBS, 2000]
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]
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]
Jane Akre. [Source: Injury Board (.com)]Investigative reporters Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson are hired by WTVT-TV, the Tampa, Florida, Fox News affiliate, to become part of its “Investigators” team. They soon begin filming a report on bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto. Their four-part report finds that BGH poses numerous health risks to milk consumers, including the threat of cancer, and that Florida supermarket chains routinely lie to their customers about not selling milk that contains BGH. Akre and Wilson will later recall that the local station is thrilled with the report. But after Monsanto complains to Fox News chief Roger Ailes about the report, the station’s general manager, David Boylan, tells Akre and Wilson to redo their film: to include statements from Monsanto that the filmmakers know to be false, and to make other revisions to the story that contradict the facts. According to Akre and Wilson, one Fox lawyer tells them that “it doesn’t matter if the facts are true,” what matters is the size of the lawsuit Monsanto might file against WTVT and Fox. Boylan tells the filmmakers that the position of Fox Television is: “We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.” Akre and Wilson revise the story some 70 times, none of which passes muster with the station or with network officials. The couple is variously suspended without pay, suspended with pay, locked out of their workspace, and offered money to “just go away.” In late November 1997, when they threaten to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the incident, WTVT fires them. They will file a lawsuit against WTVT and against Fox Television (see August 18, 2000). [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 6/1998; BGH Bulletin, 2004; St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007] Wilson later says: “Every editor has the right to kill a story and any honest reporter will tell you that happens from time to time when a news organization’s self interest wins out over the public interest. But when media managers who are not journalists have so little regard for the public trust that they actually order reporters to broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests as happened here, that is the day any responsible reporter has to stand up and say, ‘No way!’ That is what Jane and I are saying with this lawsuit.… We set out to tell Florida consumers the truth a giant chemical company and a powerful dairy lobby clearly doesn’t want them to know. That used to be something investigative reporters won awards for. As we’ve learned the hard way, it’s something you can be fired for these days whenever a news organization places more value on its bottom line than on delivering the news to its viewers honestly.” Akre will add: “We are parents ourselves. It is not right for the station to withhold this important health information and solely as a matter of conscience we will not aid and abet their effort to cover this up any longer. Every parent and every consumer have the right to know what they’re pouring on their children’s morning cereal.” [BGH Bulletin, 2004] Akre and Wilson will win the Goldman Environmental Prize for their original report in 2001. [Prize, 2001]
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]
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]
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]
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]
Research done by Dr. Garrett FitzGerald suggests that COX-2 inhibiting drugs, like Vioxx and Celebrex, increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. FitzGerald believes that COX-2 inhibitors block the production of a substance called prostacyclin, which leads to blood vessel constriction and clotting. His research is dismissed by Merck, the maker of Vioxx. Vioxx’s only selling point is that it causes fewer gastrointestinal problems than other pain killers on the market. But according to FitzGerald, the mechanism that makes the drug gentler on the stomach is also responsible for causing the cardiovascular problems. [MSNBC, 10/6/2004] FitzGerald’s research is later published in two studies, one in 1999 and another in 2001. [Associated Press, 6/22/2005]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.’”
On July 23, he says, “Sometimes I think it’s all just too much.” [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
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]
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]
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]
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]
A Florida jury unanimously finds in favor of Jane Akre, a plaintiff suing Fox Television for wrongful termination. Akre and her husband, Steve Wilson, had begun filming a news story for the Tampa, Florida, Fox affiliate on the harmful effects of BGH, or bovine growth hormone. Akre and Wilson were fired when they refused orders from Fox officials to add false information favorable to Monsanto, the manufacturers of BGH, to their story (see December 1996 - December 1997). (The jury rules that Wilson was not harmed by Fox’s actions.) The jury rules that Akre warrants protection under Florida’s whistleblower law, and awards her a $425,000 settlement. Instead of paying the judgment, Fox Television appeals the decision (see February 14, 2003). [St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007]
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.
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENACILIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
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).
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]
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]
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]
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]
Security is extremely poor at USAMRIID, the Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as other bio-weapons facilities, in the years prior to the anthrax attacks. The security flaws are documented in two reports that will be completed in 2002. One report will be produced by Sandia National Laboratories, which focused on USAMRIID, and the other by the US Army Inspector General’s office, which examined security at Fort Detrick, as well as other locations, including Battelle Memorial Institute. The existence of these reports will first be disclosed in a joint news report by McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica, and PBS’s Frontline. According to the McClatchy/ProPublica/PBS article, the reports “describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done, and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.” Additionally, “The existing security procedures… were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide, or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax.” The FBI will later claim to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations who either had access to the lab where Bruce Ivins worked, or who had received samples from anthrax flask RMR-1029. The FBI and Justice Department will claim that RMR-1029 was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, and that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the attacks (see August 6, 2008). Both of these claims will be called into question (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008, April 22, 2010, and February 15, 2011). [Propublica, 10/24/2011]
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]
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).
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]
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]
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).
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:
YOU CAN NOT STOP US.
WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.
YOU DIE NOW.
ARE YOU AFRAID?
DEATH TO AMERICA.
DEATH TO ISRAEL.
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]
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]
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).
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
Nicole Pollier, a legal intern at Center for Constitutional Rights, testifies before the Environment Committee of the New York City Council and discusses health concerns at the WTC recovery site. She says that the Center found that “virtually none of the people working at the WTC disaster site are or have been wearing any personal protective equipment,” which the organization attributes to a lack of organized training. Only 5-10 percent of the workers wear disposable dust masks, she said. Additionally, “workers leaving the site are not decontaminated, nor do they use the washing stations that have been set up at the perimeter of the site by volunteer organizations.” Pollier says the Center blames OSHA which has taken the position that the site’s designation as a “search and rescue” operation denies it the authority to enforce safety laws. There have been “no mandated training sessions, and no enforcement of personal protective equipment requirements or exposure monitoring requirements,” she explains. Instead, OSHA has played a consultative role as a technical adviser. Pollier says that the Center disagrees with OSHA’s position, calling attention to a 1991 directive entitled “OSHA Response to Significant Events of Potentially Catastrophic Consequences,” which states: “The OSH Act requires that OSHA respond to catastrophic events….” [New York City, 11/1/2001]
The EPA will repeatedly claim that it does not have jurisdiction or oversight over indoor tests or cleanups of residences and businesses. Critics who disagree note that:
The EPA’s response to the 9/11 attacks were coordinated under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001), which requires that when the EPA delegates any tasks to state or local authorities, the agency ensures that their responses are in accordance with EPA standards (see 1972). Therefore, according to the NCP, the EPA does have jurisdiction over inside air.
Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, the EPA commenced the abatement of homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation had contaminated the surrounding area (see (August 2001)). Libby asbestos remediation commenced under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP). [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ] In Libby, the highest level of asbestos found in a home was 3,658 structures per square centimeter (s/cm [Chatfield and Kominsky, 10/12/2001 ; MSNBC, 1/11/2002; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ] In December, the EPA will “fast-track” the Libby site to a place on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site after a request from Montana’s governor (see December 20, 2001). In New York, Governor Pataki will make no similar request for the areas affected by World Trade Center collapse. [Kupferman, 2003 ; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ]
The EPA is taking responsibility for the indoor environmental conditions at numerous contaminated sites across the US, including at Herculaneum, Missouri; McFarland, California; and Kellogg, Idaho. [Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler, 1/7/2002]
The EPA has decontaminated more than 1400 homes and businesses in Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio after the buildings were illegally sprayed with the pesticide methyl parathion (see January 1995)
(see April 1997)
(see November 1996).
David Newman, of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, interviewed by Newsday, disagrees with the EPA’s position that asbestos levels have not been high enough to pose long term health risks. “While diseases such as asbestosis result from exposure to asbestos over long periods of time, asbestos-related cancers, such as mesothelioma, which have a 10- to 40-year latency period, can develop from low-level exposure to this killing dust,” Newman explains. [Newsday, 11/9/2001 ]
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]
EPA Region 2 responds to an inquiry from a woman concerned about the asbestos levels in the building where her husband works, which is across the street from the World Trade Center site. The EPA informs her that “that the owner/manager of the building [should] follow the cleanup guidelines in the September 16 City of New York Public Notice (see September 16, 2001)…. In addition, the New York City Department of Health has a fact sheet (see September 17, 2001) on the internet… that contains recommendations for people re-occupying commercial buildings and residents re-entering their homes.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ]
The Stuyvesant High School Parents’ Association holds a meeting to address concerns about health and safety conditions at the school. People attending the meeting complain that the Board of Education has failed to address a number of issues. Other topics that are discussed at the meeting include symptoms of illness among the students, tests showing an elevated level of particulates, and evidence that information publicly disclosed by the EPA does not reveal the actual levels of contaminants around Ground Zero. [Stuyvesant High School Parents' Association, 11/13/2001; New York Daily News, 12/20/2001]
The City of New York supplies the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with the original version of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) test results on air asbestos levels. [Environmental Protection Agency, 7/15/2004 ] A censored version of the data is later released to the public in early 2002 (see Early 2002).
The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) receives documents from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the city’s Department of Health (DOH) that had been requested through the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The request was initially denied on grounds that the documents were related to an “on-going criminal investigation.” NYELJP receives them only after an appeal and repeated demands. The documents reveal that during spot testing the DEC’s monitors became clogged with dust and were not subsequently replaced or re-set as they should have been. The documents also contain NYC DOH test results showing that some of the air monitors located in City Hall offices and other spaces in downtown Manhattan had at times been “overloaded” with dust. Instead of recalibrating the equipment and re-testing, the department simply ceased testing. Rather than inform the public about the overload dust finding, the agency listed the results as “N.A.” on its website. [Kupferman, 2003 ]
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]
Cate Jenkins, Ph.D., a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, writes in a memo to Monona Rossol of the Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety (ACTS) organization that the EPA is ignoring federal asbestos-abatement laws in buildings close to the World Trade Center site. The 22-year veteran of the agency says that EPA officials “effectively waived” the EPA’s “strict national regulations for removal and disposal of asbestos contaminated dust” by advising residents and commercial building managers in Lower Manhattan to follow the “extremely lenient (and arguably illegal) asbestos guidelines of the New York City Department of Health.” She notes that EPA testing discovered the presence of asbestos levels above the one percent “action level” in dust samples from at least 30 locations, some of which were located within five to seven blocks of Ground Zero. After the memo is reported in the New York Daily News, EPA officials will assert that Jenkins doesn’t understand the law (see (November 19, 2001)). [Jenkins, 11/15/2001; New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 ]
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]
Walter Mugdan, the EPA’s regional counsel, disputes allegations (see November 15, 2001) that EPA employee Cate Jenkins recently made against the agency in a memo. Jenkins claimed that EPA officials “effectively waived” the EPA’s “strict national regulations for removal and disposal of asbestos contaminated dust.” Mugdan argues that Jenkins “assumes that they [the regulations] apply to the cleaning up of dust in residential or office buildings in Lower Manhattan.” According to him, “When they were written, they were never intended to apply to something like a terrorist act. These regulations apply to owners and operators of a facility who are carrying out a demolition or renovation. They were never contemplated to apply to someone cleaning an apartment.” [New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 ; Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler, 1/7/2002] In response to Mugdan’s claim, Jenkins says, “This is not an academic or scientific argument. Our regulations are very specific. They don’t allow you to do this. We’ve had a breakdown where the federal EPA and the city are scrambling to get everything back to normal, and they’re ignoring the law.” [New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 ] Mugdan’s assertions are contradicted by the fact that the EPA has recently removed asbestos from private homes in Libby, Montana and has tested for, and removed, other types of hazardous materials in other regions of the US (see After November 1, 2001). [Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler, 1/7/2002] Furthermore, in May 2000 (see May 2000), the EPA affirmed that in the event of a terrorist attack, the EPA would respond under the authority of the NCP (see 1972)
—which binds the EPA to the very rules Mugdan’s claims would not apply.
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).
People working and living in downtown Manhattan continue to be concerned about environmental conditions. For example, one resident, Catherine McVay Hughes, tells WABC News, “Last week, in our apartment where I had sealed my windows with energy efficient duct tape and had four large air filters running non-stop and plants, I could still smell the fires burning.” Another resident, Tammy Meltzer, likewise explains: “There is a lot of dust in the air that makes your eyes swell shut when it hits you. Your throat also becomes very sore.” [WABC, 11/26/2001]
American Medical News reports that doctors in New York City are still treating large numbers of patients for respiratory conditions stemming from the World Trade Center disaster. About one-third of all New York City firefighters have symptoms of what is now termed the “WTC cough,” typified by persistent dry unproductive coughs, wheezing, sinus irritation and shortness of breath. One-fifth of responding firefighters also complain of GERD (gastroentero reflux disease) which doctors believe may have been caused by ingesting the pulverized concrete and glass that was present in the World Trade Center dust. “What you inhale, you also swallow,” explains David J. Prezant, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the New York City Fire Department. “Your entire tongue was coated with this stuff.” Doctors believe these health problems were caused in part by the shortcomings of protective breathing masks, which are not supposed to be worn for days on end. [American Medical News, 11/26/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]
Sheldon Silver, a New York City Assembly Speaker (D-Manhattan), says that his office has received a “significant influx” of complaints concerning skin rashes, sinusitis and aggravated asthma from people working and living in Lower Manhattan. [New York Daily News, 11/27/2001]
Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, testifies before the joint New York State Assembly Committees on Environmental Conservation, Health, and Labor. She reiterates past EPA assertions that WTC contaminants pose no long term risks to local residents. “We’ve tested for the presence of pollutants such as asbestos, fine particulate matter, lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxin, benzene, metals, PCBs and other chemicals and substances that could pose a threat to the public and workers at the site,” she says. “Fortunately, the vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants that pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero. And despite recent press accounts which suggest otherwise, these findings have not changed. In fact, environmental conditions off the site have improved in recent weeks.” Callahan also says that people concerned about contamination in their homes “should follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly” (see September 17, 2001). [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/1/2001]
Dr. Stephen Levin of the Mount Sinai-I.J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine testifies before the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committees on Environmental Conservation, Health, and Labor that conditions “seen in adults who have been at or near” the WTC site “for as little as twenty-four to thirty-six hours” included “reactive airways disease, new onset or exacerbation of pre-existing asthma, RADS [reactive airway dysfunction syndrome], sinusitis, irritant rhinitis, persistent cough, and diffuse irritation of nasal mucosal surfaces.” Among first-responders “or individuals who were hit by the cloud of dust and debris” following the collapse, he has observed “a dramatic increase in GERD [gastro-esophageal reflux] symptoms,” which for some people can be life-threatening. [Kupferman, 2003 ]
Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., the assistant commissioner of environmental risk assessment at the New York City Department of Health, testifies before a number of committees of the New York State Assembly. She says that the department has taken a lead role in monitoring the environmental conditions near the WTC site and that there are few concerns that there will be long term effects on public health. “Some substances, such as the particulate matter from the dust or the smoke in the air, can be irritating but are not expected to have long term effects for most people,” she says. “Other substances, such as asbestos, are not expected to have short term effects, but if elevated over long periods of time can have long term effects.” [New York City Department of Health, 11/26/2001]
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 2’s legal counsel advises in a draft document (obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through a Freedom of Information Act): “[AHERA] was developed to determine whether school buildings where asbestos was used are safe. Under this test, an air monitor pumps room air through a special filter for a specified amount of time. Then the number of asbestos ‘structures,’ or fibers, on a square millimeter of the filter are counted. If there are fewer than 70 such structures, the air is judged to be acceptable. EPA has used this same school-based standard to evaluate the safety of outside air in downtown Manhattan.” [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 ] The EPA counsel’s statement is a misinterpretation of AHERA (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004).
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).
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]
The Environmental Protection Agency outside air monitoring station at Stuyvesant High School records an asbestos level of 124 fibers per square millimeter, which significantly exceeds acceptable background levels. [New York Daily News, 12/20/2001]
The Indoor and Built Environment Journal publishes a study by Dr. E. B. Ilgren, MD, which concludes that residents near the WTC site in downtown Manhattan “do not appear to be at risk of long term, asbestos—or metal—related disease but their homes must still be cleaned professionally to eliminate highly irritating, aerosolized dusts.” [Ilgren, 12/2001]
After the New York City Department of Health tests Tribeca Tower at 105 Duane Street for asbestos and finds nothing, the building’s residents contact Attorney Joel R Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) for assistance. Certified industrial hygienist, Ed Olmstead, collects dusts samples for Kupferman using a micro-vac. Analysis is conducted using the highly sensitive transmission electron microscope (TEM) method. The tests results reveal high concentrations of asbestos. A sample taken from a hallway ventilation duct that circulates air throughout the building is found to contain 550,000 structures of asbestos per square centimeter. When confronted with these results, the EPA claims the hygienist’s testing method was unsound and that the results were an aberration. The landlord of the building, citing EPA and DEP assurances that the test results could be ignored, refuses to appropriately abate the building. [Jenkins, 12/3/2001 ; Washington Post, 1/8/2002; Kupferman, 2003 ; Salon, 8/15/2003]
An article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, titled, “Environmental Aftermath,” suggests that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers “may have serious long term environmental health effects on those in harm’s way, including children, office workers, rescuers and residents.” It cites “asbestos, lead and PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) present in the dust created by the Twin Towers collapse as among the most potentially serious lingering exposures to the community, including rescue workers, office workers and the more than 20,000 residents, and 3,000 children, who live within half a mile of Ground Zero.” [Environmental Health Perspectives, 11/2001; Environmental Health Perspectives, 12/4/2001]
United Press International (UPI) publishes an article on the post-911 environmental conditions in downtown Manhattan. The news agency interviews Indira Singh, a risk architect and volunteer emergency medical technician, who says “that before the terrorist attacks she was a mountain climber and a pilot and in the top physical condition of her life but since then she has a cough, onset asthma, chest pain and headaches that won’t quit.” She adds that many of her neighbors “have coughs, headaches, ugly rashes, eye infections, people coughing up blood, kidney infections, upper respiratory problems, swollen tongues and most bizarre of all about a dozen had their dental work fall out.” [United Press International, 12/7/2001]
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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]
The City of New York posts the results of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests on air asbestos levels on the New York City Department of Environmental Protection website. The data does not match the results that had been given to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation back in November (see November 13, 2001). Test results indicating excessive asbestos levels have been either deleted or changed to “not detected.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 7/15/2004 ]
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]
Joe Martyak, spokesman for EPA in Administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s office, tells MSNBC that “indoor air is beyond EPA’s jurisdiction.” [MSNBC, 1/11/2002] Martyak’s assertion is contradicted by recent EPA activities and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP)
(see After November 1, 2001).
The environmental consulting firm, H.A. Bader Associates, conducts several environmental tests at Fiterman Hall of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, (BMCC), located four blocks from the World Trade Center site (see October 1, 2001). The test results indicate “unusually high levels of dioxin in dust samples throughout the building” that are “levels 20 to 90 orders of magnitude above results from other buildings where… [the] firm has tested or cleaned in Lower Manhattan.” An EPA toxicologist who reviews the firm’s data will tell the New York Daily News in February that he believes the levels in the building are “below EPA levels of concern.” [New York Daily News, 2/7/2002 ]
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]
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]
Attorney Michael Barasch tells the Associated Press that he has filed legal notices on behalf of 700 firefighters and 300 police officers, fire marshals and emergency medical technicians, who have developed respiratory conditions after working at the World Trade Center disaster site. The legal notices are meant to preserve the plaintiffs’ right to sue the City of New York at a later date on the premise that the city failed to follow federal regulations and provide the appropriate respirators to the rescue workers at the disaster site. [Associated Press, 1/13/2002; Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 ]
EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin agrees to investigate the World Trade Center environmental case at the request of US Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. [US Congress, 6/25/2002]
Dr. Cate Jenkins writes a memorandum comparing the data from a major asbestos-contaminated site in Libby, Montana—where the EPA tested and cleaned homes (see (August 2001))
—to that of the WTC disaster site where the EPA has so far refused to take responsibility for the abatement of private residences. She argues that Lower Manhattan should be designated a Superfund site, as was Libby, Montana (see December 20, 2001), in order to reduce the public’s exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos, fiberglass, fine particulates, mercury and lead. Superfund designation would shift the financial burden from individual citizens to the government. In the memo, she also summarizes the calculated cancer risks for people occupying Lower Manhattan buildings. [Jenkins, 1/11/2002 ]
Bonnie Bellow, spokeswoman for the EPA’s region II office in New York tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the EPA is not responsible for testing homes and businesses. “That’s not our job and we have no policies or procedures for doing that type of testing,” she claims. “We’ve never had to worry about asbestos in houses before.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/13/2002; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/14/2002] Bellow’s statement is contradicted by the EPA’s record and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP)
(see After November 1, 2001).
A mobile health unit at Ground Zero offers free health examinations for immigrant workers and day laborers hired to clean office buildings in Lower Manhattan. The medical team, headed by Dr. Steven Markowitz, conducts pulmonary testing of workers, collects blood and urine samples, and interviews them about their work history. By March 1, the mobile unit will examine 415 workers, primarily from Colombia and Ecuador. Markowitz later tells Newsday that workers said employers had provided them with mops, rags and bags for removing inches of dust from buildings. “Most said they were not given protective equipment,” Newsday reports. Some workers who brought their own respirators said employers told them not to wear such protection.” [Newsday, 4/28/2002]
Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health John L. Henshaw writes in a letter to Mr. Lowell Peterson of the law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, P.C., that since “materials containing asbestos were used in the construction of the Twin Towers, the settled dust from their collapse must be presumed to contain asbestos.” [US Department of Labor, 1/31/2005]
The Civil Service Employees Association tests a dust sample taken from a window air conditioner located at the Department of Motor Vehicles offices and finds 8 percent asbestos. [New York Daily News, 9/11/2003]
R. Radhakrishnan, Director of the Asbestos Control Program in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sends letters to owners of buildings located within the zone of WTC contamination requesting “copies of the environmental hazard assessments including bulk sampling results and air monitoring results and a summary of cleanup activities” at their buildings within 5 days. The letter recalls that they had been advised in September (see September 16, 2001) to have their buildings professionally tested for asbestos and other contaminants. If tests proved positive for any dangerous contaminants, they were to have had them abated professionally. The letter also says that building owners “are responsible for the cleaning of building exteriors, grounds, and common areas.” The letter contains no reference to the federal regulations that govern asbestos and other hazardous materials. [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ] The DEP makes no effort to enforce compliance with this request. By September 2002, only 354 of the roughly 1900 buildings that were required to provide the agency with data and documentation will have responded to Radhakrishnan’s request. Of those, 31 buildings will say they found dangerous levels of asbestos requiring professional abatement. Others will provide records that are incomplete or inadequate. The DEP does not issue a single citation for building owners or managers that do not respond. [Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler, 2/10/2003; New York Daily News, 9/11/2003]
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