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Context of 'December 17, 2001-January 13, 2002: Government Officials Confirm FBI Believes Domestic Loner Caused the Anthrax Attacks'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event December 17, 2001-January 13, 2002: Government Officials Confirm FBI Believes Domestic Loner Caused the Anthrax Attacks. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001; Associated Press 8/7/2008) Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). (Rose 10/14/2001; BBC 10/16/2001) However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” (Washington Post 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times 11/10/2001)

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.” (Rose and Vulliamy 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).

Th Los Angeles Times reports, “The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage…” The FBI is said to base this conclusion on “case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence.” FBI investigators say they are looking for “an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax.” They believe he is an “anti-social loner” who “has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.” However, these investigators admit that psychological profiling is a rough science, especially since they have little more than a small number of words written on the anthrax-laced letters. The letters appear to have tried to frame Muslims for the attacks. For instance, each letter contains the phrase “Allah is great.” Investigators say they are not completely ruling out an overseas connection to the letters, such as an Iraqi or Russian connection, but they consider it very unlikely. Investigators have not explained why they are so confident the attacks were caused by only one person. (Lichtblau and Garvey 11/10/2001)

Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. (Williamson and Gorman 8/7/2008) However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. (WorldNetDaily 8/7/2008) Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. (Isikoff 8/9/2008)

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.” (Rozen 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).

A Washington Post front page article about the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) states, “Bush administration officials have acknowledged that the anthrax attacks were an important motivator in the US decision to confront Iraq, and several senior administration officials say today that they still strongly suspect a foreign source—perhaps Iraq—even though no one has publicly said so.” The rest of the article focuses on the theory that the attacks were so sophisticated that a state such as Iraq was likely responsible (see October 28, 2002). (Gugliotta and Matsumoto 10/28/2002) The Bush administration initially suggested there could be a link between the anthrax attacks and Iraq (see October 14, 2001 and October 17, 2001), but in November 2001 the FBI began focusing on the theory that a loner American was the sole culprit (see November 10, 2001).

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