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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Dugway Proving Ground

Project: 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, paxvector

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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]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, William C. Patrick III, US Department of the Army

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, US Military Bioweapons

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

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons

A USAMRIID technician opening one of the anthrax letters in December 2001.A USAMRIID technician opening one of the anthrax letters in December 2001. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]A front-page Washington Post story suggests that the Ames strain of anthrax used in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) likely originated from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and was shared with only a small number of other labs. USAMRIID gave it to the Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio; the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the Defense Research Establishment Suffield, in Canada; the US Army Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah; and the Chemical Defense Establishment at Porton Down, Britain. These in turn sent it to seven more labs, for a total of a dozen. But only five labs received the virulent form, and some of these may have received strains that were too old to have been the Anthrax used in the mailings, since it is known the anthrax used was two years old or less. [Washington Post, 11/30/2001; New York Times, 6/23/2002]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: USAMRIID, US Military Bioweapons, Battelle Memorial Institute, Dugway Proving Ground

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]

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

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Other Suspects, Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons

Dugway Proving Ground.Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, US Department of the Army, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, US Military Bioweapons

Salon exposes details about the FBI’s anthrax investigation. The FBI appears to be casting a very wide net, for instance approaching all 40,000 members of the American Society of Microbiologists and putting out flyers all over New Jersey asking for information. Yet nearly all the evidence so far suggests that the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks was only given to about 20 laboratories in the US, and most likely only four US laboratories have the capability for “weaponizing” dry anthrax. Two of these labs are the US Army’s USAMRIID in Fort Detrick, Maryland, or the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. There are probably less than 50 scientists in the US with the necessary skills. Meanwhile, the FBI has not yet subpoenaed employee records of the few labs that used the strain of anthrax used in the attacks. Numerous anthrax experts express puzzlement. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, believes the FBI is dragging its heels for political reasons. She is convinced the FBI knows who mailed the anthrax letters, but is not arresting him, because he has been involved in secret biological weapons research that the US does not want revealed. “This guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize. Therefore, they don’t want to get too close.” It will later turn out that she is referring to anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill (see February-June 2002). [Salon, 2/8/2002]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: FBI Investigation, Other Suspects, USAMRIID, Dugway Proving Ground

USAMRIID.USAMRIID. [Source: Public domain]After extensive testing, the DNA sequence of the anthrax sent through the US mail in 2001 is deciphered, and it strongly supports suspicions that the bacteria originally came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Furthermore, analysis of genetic drift determines that the attacker’s anthrax was not separated from the source anthrax at USAMRIID for many generations. It suggests that USAMRIID or USAMRIID samples given to Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and/or Porton Downs in Britain are the most likely sources of the anthrax used in the attacks. [New Scientist, 5/2/2002]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: FBI Investigation, USAMRIID, Dugway Proving Ground

The Washington Post reports in a front-page story, “A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts are expressing skepticism about the FBI’s view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.” More than a dozen experts suggest investigators should “reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice.” These experts suggest that making the type of anthrax used could take a team of experts and millions of dollars. The article focuses on the possibility that Iraq could be to blame, and mentions that unnamed senior Bush administration officials believe Iraq was behind the attacks (see October 28, 2002). However, even though the Post claims “a consensus has emerged in recent months among experts,” only one expert, Richard Spertzel, is named who supports the Iraq theory. Spertzel was the chief biological inspector for the UN Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. He says: “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.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002] Although the article doesn’t mention it, the other scientists Spertzel say could make the anthrax are renowned bioterrorism expert William Patrick and several unnamed scientists at Dugway Proving Ground, the US Army’s bioweapons laboratory in Utah, that Patrick trained in anthrax production in 1998. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] This renewed focus on an Iraq-anthrax link coincides with the US push to go to war with Iraq, and will fade after the Iraq war starts.

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William C. Patrick III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Iraq, FBI Investigation, Dugway Proving Ground

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF pdf file; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site.  Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples.  The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]

Entity Tags: FBI Headquarters, Dugway Proving Ground, National Academy of Sciences, Battelle Memorial Institute, “Justice Department”, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: Real Anthrax Attacks, Battelle Memorial Institute, Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons, Bruce Ivins

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