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2001 anthrax attacks
The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, also known as Amerithrax from its FBI case name, occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on September 18, 2001. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. The crime remains unsolved.
Additional recommended knowledge
The anthrax attacks came in two waves. The first set of anthrax letters had a Trenton, New Jersey postmark dated September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Five letters are believed to have been mailed at this time, to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and the New York Post, all located in New York City; and to the National Enquirer at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida. Robert Stevens, the first person who died from the mailings, worked at a tabloid called Sun, also published by AMI. Only the New York Post and NBC News letters were actually found; the existence of the other three letters is inferred because individuals at ABC, CBS and AMI became infected with anthrax. Scientists examining the anthrax from the New York Post letter said it appeared as a coarse brown granular material looking like Purina Dog Chow.
Two more anthrax letters, bearing the same Trenton postmark, were dated October 9, three weeks after the first mailing. The letters were addressed to two Democratic Senators, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The Daschle letter was opened by an aide on October 15, and the government mail service was shut down. The unopened Leahy letter was discovered in an impounded mail bag on November 16. The Leahy letter had been misdirected to the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Virginia, due to a misread ZIP code; a postal worker there, David Hose, contracted inhalation anthrax.
More potent than the first anthrax letters, the material in the Senate letters was a highly refined dry powder consisting of about one gram of nearly pure spores. Earlier reports described the material in the Senate letters as "weaponized" or "weapons grade" anthrax. However, in September 2006, the Washington Post reported that the FBI no longer believes the anthrax was weaponized.
At least 22 people developed anthrax infections, with 11 of the especially life-threatening inhalation variety. Five died of inhalation anthrax: Stevens; two employees of the Brentwood mail facility in Washington, D.C., Thomas Morris Jr. and Joseph Curseen; and two about whom their source of exposure to the bacteria is still unknown: Kathy Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant resident in the borough of the Bronx who worked in New York City, and Ottilie Lundgren, a 94-year old widow of a prominent judge from Oxford, Connecticut, who was the last known victim.
The anthrax letters are believed to have been mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. In August 2002, investigators found anthrax spores in a city street mailbox located at 10 Nassau Street near the Princeton University campus. About 600 mailboxes that could have been used to mail the letters were tested for anthrax. The box on Nassau Street was the only one to test positive.
The New York Post and NBC News letters contained the following note:
The second note that was addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy read:
The return address
The letters addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy have the return address:
The address is fictitious. Franklin Park, New Jersey exists, but the zip code 08852 is for nearby Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. There is no Greendale School in Franklin Park or Monmouth Junction New Jersey, though there is a Greenbrook Elementary School in adjacent South Brunswick Township, New Jersey, of which Monmouth Junction is a part.
The anthrax material
The letters contained at least two grades of anthrax material; the coarse brown material sent in the media letters and the fine powder sent to the two U.S. Senators. In addition, it has been suggested the anthrax material sent to an old Post Office Box address of the National Enquirer and then forwarded to AMI may have been an intermediate grade similar to the anthrax sent to the Senate. The brown granular anthrax sent to media outlets in New York City caused only skin infections, cutaneous anthrax. The anthrax sent to the Senators caused the more dangerous form of infection known as inhalation anthrax, as did the anthrax sent to AMI in Florida.
Although the anthrax preparations were of different grades, all of the material derived from the same bacterial strain. Known as the Ames strain, it was first researched at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Ames strain was then distributed to at least fifteen bio-research labs within the U.S. and six locations overseas.
DNA sequencing of the anthrax taken from Robert Stevens (the first victim) was conducted at The Institute for Genomic Research beginning in December 2001. Sequencing was finished within a month and the analysis was published in the journal Science in early 2002.
Radiocarbon dating conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in June 2002 established that the anthrax was cultured no more than two years before the mailings. In October 2006 it was reported that water used to process the anthrax spores came from a source in the northeastern United States. Erroneous press reports in 2003 indicated the FBI failed to reverse engineer the type of anthrax found in the letters. According to Chemical & Engineering News, December 4, 2006, there was never any attempt to "reverse engineer" the attack anthrax. Instead, Dugway "used the Leahy powder as the culture starter to 'produce several different preparations using different media, and different ways of drying and milling the preparation' that the FBI could use for comparison purposes." They "never analyzed the Leahy powder and did no comparative analyses between the preparations made and the Leahy powder."
Controversy over coatings and additives
Early reports suggested the anthrax sent to the Senate had been "weaponized." On October 29, 2001, Major General John Parker at a White House briefing said that silica had been found in the Daschle anthrax sample. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge in a White House press conference on November 7, 2001, told reporters that tests indicated a binding agent had been used in making the anthrax. Later, the FBI claimed a "lone individual" could have weaponized anthrax spores for as little as $2,500, using a makeshift basement laboratory.
A number of press reports appeared suggesting the Senate anthrax had coatings and additives. Newsweek reported the anthrax sent to Senator Leahy had been coated with a chemical compound previously unknown to bioweapons experts.
Two experts on the Soviet anthrax program, Kenneth Alibek and Matthew Meselson, were consultants with the Justice Department and were shown electron micrographs of the anthrax from the Daschle letter. They replied to the Washington Post article "FBI's Theory on Anthrax Is Doubted" (October 28, 2002), reporting that they saw no evidence the anthrax spores had been coated and that more careful investigation of the specimens is necessary 
A week after Meselson and Alibek had their letter published in the Washington Post, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), one of the military labs that analyzed the Daschle anthrax, published an official newsletter stating that silica was a key aerosol enabling component of the Daschle anthrax. The AFIP lab deputy director, Florabel Mullick, said "This [silica] was a key component. Silica prevents the anthrax from aggregating, making it easier to aerosolize. Significantly, we noted the absence of aluminum with the silica. This combination had previously been found in anthrax produced by Iraq."
In February 2005, Stephan P. Velsko of Lawrence Livermore National Labs published a paper titled "Physical and Chemical Analytical Analysis: A key component of Bioforensics". In this paper, Velsko illustrated that different silica coating processes gave rise to weaponized anthrax simulants that look completely different from one another. He suggested that the difference in the look of products could provide evidence of what method the lab that manufactured the 2001 anthrax used, and thus provide clues to the ultimate origin of the material.
In May 2005, Academic Press published the volume "Microbial Forensics" edited by Roger Breeze, Bruce Budowle and Steven Schutzer. Bruce Budowle is with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Forensic Science Laboratory. Although the volume does not directly discuss the silica coatings found in the senate anthrax of 2001, the contributors to the chapters discuss in detail the forensics of silica coated weaponized bacterial spores. Pictures are shown of silica weaponized bacillus spores that are both mixed with silica and fully coated with silica. Pictures of weaponized Clostridium spores coated with Colloidal, spherical silica are also shown. Again, the aim of these studies is to define the forensic fingerprints of silica weaponization processes.
In July 2005, Dr Michael V Callahan (who is presently with DOD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)) gave a briefing before the Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack. Dr Callahan stated "First, the attack illustrated that advanced expertise had readily been exploited by a bioterrorist; the preparation in the Daschle letter contained extraordinarily high concentrations of purified endospores. Second, the spore preparation was coated with an excipient which helped retard electrostatic attraction, thus increasing aerosolization of the agent."
The August 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology contained an article written by Dr. Douglas Beecher of the FBI labs in Quantico, VA. The article, titled "Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis to Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis spores ," states "Individuals familiar with the compositions of the powders in the letters have indicated that they were comprised simply of spores purified to different extents." The article also specifically criticizes "a widely circulated misconception" "that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production." The harm done by such things is described this way: "This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone. The persistent credence given to this impression fosters erroneous preconceptions, which may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally detract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations." However, after this article had appeared the editor of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, L. Nicholas Ornston, stated that he was uncomfortable with Beecher's statement in the article since it had no evidence to back it up and contained no citation.
In April 2007 an analysis of the spore preparation was published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. This analysis by Dr. Dany Shoham and Dr. Stuart Jacobsen pointed out that the sophisticated additives and processing used to create the weapon likely could be used to trace the origin.
In August 2007 Dr. Kay Mereish, UN Chief, Biological Planning and Operations, published a letter in Applied and Environmental Microbiology titled "Unsupported Conclusions on the Bacillus anthracis Spores". This letter, published in the same journal as FBI scientist Douglas Beecher (see paragraph above), points out that the statements made by Dr. Beecher in his article on the the lack of additives were not backed up with any data. She suggested that Dr. Beecher publish a paper with analytical data showing the absence of silica or other additives. Such data would include SEM images of the pure spores as well as EDX spectra and EDX images showing the absence of any foreign additives such as silica or the elements silicon and oxygen. Dr. Mereish referenced a 2006 CBRN, Counter-Proliferation and Response meeting in Paris where a presenter announced that an additive was present in the attack anthrax that affected the spore's electrical charges.
As of 2008, the anthrax investigation seems to have gone cold. Authorities have traveled to six different continents, interviewed more than 9,100 people, conducted 67 searches and have issued over 6,000 subpoenas. The number of FBI agents assigned to the case is 17. The number of postal inspectors investigating the case is ten. There are no reports that the investigators have identified the lab used to make the anthrax powders.
Anthrax attack bug "identical" to army strain report
On 9 May 2002, New Scientist published an article that reported:
'The DNA sequence of the anthrax sent through the US mail in 2001 has been revealed and confirms suspicions that the bacteria originally came from a US military laboratory. The data released uses codenames for the reference strains against which the attack strain was compared. The two reference strains that appear identical to the attack strain most likely originated at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick (USAMRIID), Maryland.
A "person of interest"
The Justice Department has named no suspects in the anthrax case. Although Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled Dr. Steven Hatfill a "person of interest" in a press conference, no charges have been brought against him. Hatfill, a virologist, has vehemently denied he had anything to do with the anthrax mailings and has sued the FBI, the Justice Department, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and others for violating his constitutional rights and for violating the Privacy Act. He has also sued The New York Times and its columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and, separately, Donald Foster, Vanity Fair, Reader's Digest, and Vassar College, for defamation. (The case against The New York Times was initially dismissed, but was reinstated on appeal. Nicholas Kristof has been dropped from the suit.) Hatfill's lawyers believe the Privacy Act was violated and continue to question journalists who have reported on their client.
In late 2002 Senators Daschle and Leahy called in the FBI to explain the Washington Post story "FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted", Washington Post, October 28, 2002. This was later on reported in "Anthrax Powder — State of the Art?" . The latter article described how Dwight Adams, chief FBI scientist, told Senators Daschle and Leahy that there were no special additives in the senate anthrax and that the silica was "naturally occurring". However, Adams admitted that there was scientific information concerning the nature of the anthrax organism that was deemed by his superiors too sensitive to share with Senators Daschle and Leahy:
Connolly: Earlier you testified that regarding the scientific aspect of the investigation there was information that was simply in your view too sensitive to share to the public about the particular characteristics of the organism sent in the mail. Is that correct?
On October 23, 2006 Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa sent a six page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting a briefing on the anthrax investigation. By December 2006, a total of 33 members of Congress have demanded that the Attorney General update them on the investigation. 
The FBI's Assistant Director for Congressional Affairs said, "After sensitive information about the investigation citing congressional sources was reported in the media, the Department of Justice and the FBI agreed that no additional briefings to Congress would be provided." 
Contamination and cleanup
Dozens of buildings were contaminated with anthrax as a result of the mailings. American Media, Inc. moved to a different building. The decontamination of the Brentwood postal facility took 26 months and cost US$130 million. The Hamilton, NJ postal facility remained closed until March 2005; its cleanup cost US$65 million. The United States Environmental Protection Agency spent US$41.7 million to clean up government buildings in Washington, D.C. One FBI document said the total damage exceeded US$1 billion.
Blasland, Bouck, & Lee (now Arcadis-BBL) was contracted by both CBS and NBC to manage their Anthrax situations. Jay D. Keough CIH, Greg Ertel MS, CIH, CSP, and Jim Poesl MS, CIE were the site personnel.
The anthrax attacks, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks, have spurred significant increases in U.S. government funding for biological warfare research and preparedness. For example, biowarfare-related funding at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) increased by US$1.5 billion in 2003. In 2004, Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act, which provides US$5.6 billion over ten years for the purchase of new vaccines and drugs.
A theory that Iraq was behind the attacks, based upon the evidence that the powder was weaponized and some reports of alleged meetings between 9/11 conspirators and Iraqi officials, may have been a contributing pretext used by the United States government to justify war with that country.
Years after the attack, several anthrax victims reported lingering health problems including fatigue, shortness of breath and memory loss. The cause of the reported symptoms is unknown.
A postal inspector, William Paliscak, became severely ill and disabled after removing an anthrax-contaminated air filter from the Brentwood mail facility on October 19, 2001. Although his doctors, Tyler Cymet and Gary Kerkvliet, believe that the illness was caused by anthrax exposure, blood tests did not find anthrax bacteria or antibodies, and therefore the CDC does not recognize it as a case of inhalation anthrax.
Several noted journalists have published major articles which have contributed to public understanding and misunderstanding of the anthrax case.
Dave Altimari and Jack Dolan have written many of the articles on the anthrax case that have appeared in The Hartford Courant. In their reporting they found incidents of mismanagement, racism, and missing pathogens at the Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
William J. Broad writes for the New York Times.
Gary Matsumoto is a television producer for Bloomberg News, and an investigative journalist who specializes in science and military affairs, who wrote, "Anthrax Powder - State of the Art?" He also co-wrote, "FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted" with Washington Post science writer, Guy Gugliotta. Matsumoto discusses the advanced properties of the anthrax found in the Senate letters. In his Science article, Matsumoto reports that the powder in the Senate letters most closely resembled the advanced aerosols now being made in U.S. biodefense labs.
David Tell writes for The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative publication that has been critical of the FBI's profile of a lone domestic terrorist being involved in the anthrax case.
A number of people outside government have taken an interest in the anthrax case, analyzing clues and developing theories.
Kenneth J. Dillon is the author of the article "Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?" He is an academic historian who served as a foreign service officer and U.S. Department of State intelligence analyst. In November, 2006 Dillon had a letter printed in the Los Angeles Times suggesting that the FBI knows that al Qaeda operative Abderraouf Jdey was responsible for the anthrax attacks.
Donald Foster is the author of the article, "The Message in the Anthrax". Unlike other amateur investigators, Foster was an insider in the case and has helped the FBI in the past as a forensic linguistic analyst. Foster believes a series of bioterrorist hoaxes trails his prime suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill.
According to Hatfill's defamation lawsuit against Foster, Foster had previously argued based on the writing and language of the letters that the perpetrator could be a foreigner who spoke Arabic or Urdu. The lawsuit cited an October 23, 2001 appearance by Foster on ABC’s Good Morning America; an article that quoted him in the November 5, 2001 issue of TIME; and a December 26, 2001 The Times article that quoted him.
Dr. Hatfill's lawsuit was settled on or around February 23, 2007. The Statement  issued by Dr. Hatfill's lawyers said that it was "resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties." Professor Foster, Readers' Digest and the owners of Vanity Fair magazine all retracted any implication that Dr. Hatfill was the anthrax mailer. It was not disclosed whether any money exchanged hands, but since the Statement was issued by Dr. Hatfills' lawyer who worked on a contingency basis, it seems certain that the settlement included a significant sum of money.
Ed Lake operates the web site anthraxinvestigation.com, which contains links to most if not all of the published information relating to the case. Lake maintains Dr. Steven Hatfill is innocent. Lake believes a scientist who lives and works in Central New Jersey mailed the anthrax letters. Lake also believes the anthrax mailer obtained the anthrax from another scientist who stole the bacteria from a laboratory as much as 2 to 3 years before the attacks. Lake has self-published a book, Analyzing The Anthrax Attacks, detailing his findings in the anthrax case. Chapter 15 of his book is titled "To Err Is Human" and explains in detail how all the incorrect information about coatings and additives in the attack anthrax got started.
Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg has been a major figure outside the official investigation. A few months after the anthrax attack, Rosenberg started a campaign to get the FBI to investigate Dr. Steven Hatfill. She gave talks and interviews suggesting the government knew who was responsible for the anthrax attacks, but did not want to charge the individual with the crime. She believed the person responsible was a contractor for the CIA and an expert in bio-warfare. She created a profile of the anthrax attacker that fit Dr. Hatfill. Rosenberg spoke before a committee of Senate staffers suggesting Hatfill was responsible, but did not explicitly provide his name. The highly publicized FBI scrutiny of Dr. Hatfill began shortly thereafter.
Richard M. Smith is a computer expert who publishes on his web site computerbytesman.com. He has a number of articles about the anthrax case. Smith suggested that if the perpetrator looked up information such as addresses on the Internet, web server logs may contain valuable evidence.
Comments from bio-weapons experts
"I would say preliminarily that they [anthrax terrorists] are not very highly trained professionals." "It could be homegrown or foreign. I cannot answer this question."
"It was a primitive process, but it was a workable process."
"It’s free flowing. It’s electrostatic free. And it’s in high concentration."
"It appears to have an additive that keeps the spores from clumping."
"The only difference between this and weapons grades is the size of the production. You can produce a very good grade of anthrax in the lab. The issue is whether those efforts can be expanded in scale, so you can make large quantities."
"The fact that they have selected the Ames strain, a hot strain of anthrax, indicates to me that they know what the hell they are doing."
"Sometimes, I feel that a disgruntled professor who didn't get tenure is working at night in his little laboratory and producing this crud." "But I can't discount the possibility that it could be coming in by diplomatic pouch from a large supply. I can't answer it. I can't make up my mind. I really don't know."
"In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them." "And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."
"I do not believe science will identify the laboratory or country from which the present anthrax spores are derived. The quality of the product contained in the letter to Senator Daschle was better than that found in the Soviet, U.S. or Iraqi program, certainly in terms of the purity and concentration of spore particles."
"I have maintained from the first descriptions of the material contained in the Daschle letter that the quality appeared to be such that it could be produced only by some group that was involved with a current or former state program in recent years. The level of knowledge, expertise, and experience required and the types of special equipment required to make such quality product takes time and experimentation to develop. Further, the nature of the finished dried product is such that safety equipment and facilities must be used to protect the individuals involved and to shield their clandestine activity from discovery."
I have believed all along that Iraqi intelligence had their dirty hands on this event. Based on ISG findings that Iraq had apparently decided in 1994 to not attempt production, but rather only research to enhance "break-out" capability and that the Iraqi and Syrian intelligence services had formed an alliance to develop the field "in chemical and biological of mutual interest," I now suspect that Syria made the anthrax product with Iraqi Intelligence assistance. The cooperation included Iraqi scientists assisting the Syrians.
Comments from government officials
Director of the CIA George Tenet
The director of the CIA under the Bush administration until 2006 said in his book "the Center of the Storm" :
“The most startling revelation from this intelligence success story was that the anthrax program had been developed in parallel to 9/11 planning. As best as we could determine, al-Zawahiri’s project had been wrapped up in the summer of 2001, when the al-Qaida deputy, along with Hambali, were briefed over a week by Sufaat on the progress he had made to isolate anthrax. The entire operation had been managed at the top of al-Qai’da with strict compartmentalization. Having completed this phase of his work, Sufaat fled Afghanistan in December 2001 and was captured by authorities trying to sneak back into Malaysia. Rauf Ahmad was detained by Pakistani authorities in December 2001. Our hope was that these and our many other actions had neutralized the anthrax threat, at least temporarily.”
Tom Carey was inspector in charge of the FBI Amerithrax investigation from October 2001 to April 2002.
On the mailings of the letters,
"What we do have and what we do know is that the anthrax was mailed here in the United States; we know it was mailed from 10 Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey, from a mailbox. We know the flow of the mail flow, we know the dates that the letters were sent, and it would appear to many of us that have worked this investigation, that it’s much more consistent with someone being an American-born, and having some level of familiarity with the Princeton-Clinton New Jersey area versus a foreign operative coming into the U.S. and being able to successfully conduct such an attack."
On an Iraqi connection,
"What I would say is the information that came out there that led weapons inspectors and others to suspect the Iraq connection was wrong information. Now it doesn’t say we still wouldn’t look for any potential connection to Iraq, or rather any other States sponsored terrorist, but what they specifically referred to didn’t exist, and it was misinformation."
FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit
"We don't have any evidence at this point linking this to any more than one person." "We're not ruling anything out." "But we're looking in the direction of that being domestic." "He is an opportunist and took advantage of this as a veil of secrecy."
White House Press Secretary
"The quality anthrax sent to Senator Daschle's office could be produced by a Ph.D. microbiologist and a sophisticated laboratory."
Van A. Harp
Van A. Harp was Assistant Director in charge of the Washington Field Office of the FBI.
"The person knew what they were doing. Contrary to what was initially out there at the beginning of the investigation, this anthrax, we do not believe, was made up in a garage or a bathtub. There are only so many people, so many places that this can be done."
"Regarding the hijacker who some believe may have had anthrax, exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been."
2001: The attacks
2002: Related events
2003: The investigation continues
Analysis and theories
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "2001_anthrax_attacks". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|