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Context of 'October 3, 2001: First Confirmed Case of Anthrax Infection; Victim Dies Two Days Later'

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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]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Battelle Memorial Institute, Mike DeWine, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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]

Entity Tags: Bob Stevens

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

A letter postmarked September 26, 2001 is sent to the FBI that seems to blame scientist Ayaad Assaad for the upcoming anthrax attacks. Assaad is an Egyptian-American. The letter is sent days after the first anthrax-laced letters were sent out (see September 17-18, 2001), but days before the first media reports of any anthrax-related illnesses (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards). The letter will be received by the FBI on October 2 (see October 2, 2001). [Associated Press, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

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]

Entity Tags: Asha George

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

On October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the tabloid The Sun, arrived at a Florida hospital with a 102-degree fever and vomiting. He quickly got worse. The next day, doctors determine he has been infected with anthrax. He is put on a respirator. On October 4, Florida doctors and officials hold a press conference to confirm that a patient has anthrax, but that they believe it is an isolated case. On October 5, Stevens is pronounced dead, becoming the first person in the US to die from anthrax since 1976. One of Stevens’s coworkers, Ernesto Blanco, has been hospitalized with pneumonia since October 1, but it will not be discovered that Blanco also has anthrax until shortly after Stevens’s death. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] Health and Human Services Director Tommy Thompson tells reporters that the Stevens infection is “an isolated case” that is “not contagious.” Thompson reassures the public, “There is no terrorism” involved in Stevens’s infection. He also asserts that Stevens was infected from an environmental source, saying, “We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week.” It is unclear whether Thompson is misinformed or being deliberately deceptive. [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 34]

Entity Tags: US Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson, Bob Stevens, Ernesto Blanco

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Robert Stevens.Robert Stevens. [Source: Associated Press]The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” [Salon, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Patrick J. Leahy, NBC, Glenn Greenwald, New York Post, Richard Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

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).

Entity Tags: Bob Stevens, Paul Keim

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

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]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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