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Profile: Don Foster
Don Foster was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
Don Foster. [Source: Al Novak]October 12, 2001, the FBI contracted Don Foster to help with the newly formed anthrax attacks investigation. Foster is a professor of English literature at Vassar College who has been advising the FBI and other government agencies for years due to his expertise in writing analysis. He has sometimes correctly guessed the identities of anonymous authors by analyzing their word usage, not their handwriting styles. By studying news reports of hoax anthrax letters, Foster begins to get interested in Steven Hatfill as a potential suspect. Hatfill had appeared as an expert on biological attacks in some articles dating back to 1998, and he has a curious history while living in Zimbabwe and South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the racist white government of Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) possibly launched an anthrax attack on their own black citizens. Foster will write in 2003, “When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats, those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.” Around February 2002, Foster suggests Hatfill’s name to FBI headquarters as a candidate suspect. But he is told that Hatfill has a good alibi. A month later, he puts forward Hatfill’s name again but is told that people in the Defense Department, State Department, and the CIA have vouched for Hatfill. William Patrick, one of the most respected bioterrorism experts, is Hatfill’s mentor and also vouches for him (see Early March 2002). In April 2002, Foster meets with Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, who has been publicly putting forth theories on who she thinks is behind the anthrax attacks (see February-June 2002). He learns that she has independently come to the same conclusion, that Hatfill should be the prime suspect. Foster will later write that the FBI was “prodded publicly by Rosenberg and privately by myself” to investigate Hatfill more closely. Foster will apparently be eased out of the FBI’s anthrax investigation when he requests some documents to analyze and the FBI does not show them to him. He will write an article in Vanity Fair in 2003 that will strongly imply Hatfill could be behind the anthrax attacks. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
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