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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Anthrax Letters and Hoax Letters

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

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A package containing a petri dish mislabeled “anthracks” is received at the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington, DC. The choice of B’nai B’rith may be meant to suggest Arab terrorists, because the building had once been the target of an assault by Muslim gunmen. The letter is signed, “The Counter Holocaust Lobbyists of Hillel,” which is similar wording to a known Holocaust denier. The dish does not contain anthrax but does contain bacillus cereus, a very close, non-toxic cousin of anthrax used by the US Defense Department. There are similarities to the later real anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), such as misspelled words—“penacilin,” in the case of the post-9/11 attacks. In July 2002, B’nai B’rith will say the FBI still has not asked it about this hoax anthrax attack. [New York Times, 8/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: B’nai B’rith, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Suspects, Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

A series of hoax anthrax letters are sent to Fox News commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Hannity will later say he began receiving the letters in the winter of 2000 and then a second batch in August 2001. Most of them were sent from a postmark in Indianapolis, Indiana, but “one or two were from Trenton,” New Jersey, where the deadly anthrax letters will be sent from shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI will later allow the New York Post to see copies of these letters, which have block handwriting sloping down to the right and other features remarkably similar to the later letters containing real anthrax. Hannity will later say: “When I saw the Tom Daschle envelope and the Tom Brokaw envelope, I immediately was stunned. It was the exact same handwriting that I had recognized.… When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the same guy.’” [New York Post, 11/1/2001; NewsMax, 11/1/2001] The letters have yet to be made public.

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

A bizarre love letter to Jennifer Lopez is received by The Sun, a tabloid newspaper with offices in Florida. The letter contains an empty can of chewing tobacco, a small detergent carton, a cigar tube with a cheap cigar, a cheap Star of David charm, and a folded handwritten letter to Jennifer Lopez with a pile of what looks like talcum powder in the middle of it. The writer describes his love for Lopez and asks her to marry him. The letter is handled both by Ernesto Blanco, who later contracts anthrax, and Bob Stevens, who later dies of anthrax. It is unknown what the return address is or what date the letter is postmarked, since its importance is only realized after it has been thrown away and people start getting sick. As a result, the FBI is never able to analyze it. [Newsweek, 10/8/2001; National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] However, others exposed to the letter, including Bobby Bender, the person who actually opens it, do not get sick later. [National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] Furthermore, the floor where the letter is opened and passed around will later turn out to be the least infected floor of the building, suggesting that the letter contained no real anthrax. But while the mail room in the basement is the most heavily infected part of the building, no other letter will be found that caused the infections there. [Center for Disease Control, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Ernesto Blanco, Bob Stevens, Jennifer Lopez, Bobby Bender

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks, Real Anthrax Attacks, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. [Source: FBI]A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
bullet 09-11-01
bullet THIS IS NEXT
bullet TAKE PENACILIN NOW
bullet DEATH TO AMERICA
bullet DEATH TO ISRAEL
bullet ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. [New York Times, 12/5/2001; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).

Entity Tags: CBS News, New York Post, NBC News, National Enquirer, Tom Brokaw, ABC News

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Real Anthrax Attacks

On September 20, 2001, a letter purporting to contain anthrax is postmarked in St. Petersburg and addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. On September 25, Erin O’Connor, an assistant to Brokaw, gets sick with cutaneous anthrax. During the first days of the anthrax investigation in early October, it will be assumed that O’Connor got sick from the St. Petersburg letter. A brief handwritten note is found in the letter with some powder. The note threatened biological attacks on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. The letter contains misspelled phrase “THE UNTHINKABEL” with the Ns reversed. On October 5, two more letters are sent from St. Petersburg that resemble to earlier letter to Brokaw. For instance, it is written in the same capitalized, blocked letters, the Ns are reversed, there are similar biological threats made, and there is a powdery substance inside. One of the letters is sent to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who is a co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, a book published just days earlier. The other letter is to Howard Troxler, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Troxler opened his letter on October 9 and Miller opened hers on October 12. But laboratory analysis soon determines that the powder in all three of the St. Petersburg letters is non-toxic. Furthermore, it is learned that a different letter containing real anthrax was sent to Tom Brokaw, explaining O’Connor’s infection. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Erin O’Connor, Judith Miller, Tom Brokaw, Howard Troxler

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Fraudulent 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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

Ayaad Assaad.Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Salon]Three days before the anthrax attacks are first made public, a letter is received by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, warning that Dr. Ayaad Assaad, employed until 1997 (see May 9, 1997) as an anthrax researcher at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is a “‘a potential terrorist,’ with a grudge against the United States and the knowledge to wage biological warfare against his adopted country.” This is the latest in a series of verbal attacks against Assaad since the early 1990s, which includes anonymous, long hateful and derogatory poems about him (see 1991-1992). The author of the letter says he is a former colleague of Assaad. The letter seems like a not-very-subtle attempt to frame Assaad for the anthrax attacks about to come. The letter strongly suggests the attacks could have been by someone at USAMRIID with a long time grudge against Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001; Salon, 1/26/2002] The FBI questions Assaad about the letter one day later (see October 3, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ayaad Assaad, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, USAMRIID

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: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries, Real Anthrax Attacks

Scientist Ayaad Assaad is interviewed by the FBI. Just one day before, the FBI received a letter that was mailed to an FBI office on September 26 (see September 26, 2001) and seems to point the blame for the upcoming anthrax attacks at Assaad. He is living in Washington, DC, at the time, and is interviewed by FBI agents Mark Buie and Gregory Leylegian at the FBI’s Washington field office. His lawyer, Rosemary McDermott, is also present. The agents read him the entire letter aloud and briefly show it to him, but will not allow him to make a copy of it.
bullet The one page, single-spaced letter says “Dr. Assaad is a potential biological terrorist,” and he is planning to mount a biological attack against the US. It adds he has the “means and will” to succeed.
bullet It continues, “I have worked with Dr. Assaad, and I heard him say that he has a vendetta against the US government and that if anything happens to him, he told his sons to carry on.”
bullet Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapon laboratory, until he was laid off in 1997, and the letter gives accurate details about Assaad’s security clearances when he worked there.
bullet Since 1997, Assaad has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the letter gives accurate details about his job there as well.
bullet The letter mentions slightly inaccurate details about Assaad’s commute from his home in Frederick, Maryland, to his EPA job in Virginia.
bullet It states that Assaad is a “religious fanatic.” (Assaad is a Christian but many assume he is Muslim due to his Egyptian ancestry.) [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002; Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004]
bullet It makes reference to “further terrorist activity” by Assaad without mentioning what his supposed previous terrorist activity was. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
bullet The letter is not signed.
Several days later, after the anthrax attacks are made public, Assaad contacts the FBI and gives a list of the former co-workers he suspects could have been behind the letter. It is not clear if the FBI does anything with this however, as they rebuff his repeated attempts to be interviewed. Despite the obvious potential connection to the anthrax attacks, which first become known two days after this interview, the FBI will not interview Assaad again on the matter until May 2004 (see May 11, 2004). [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Mark Buie, Gregory Leylegian, Ayaad Assaad, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Author of Ayaad Assaad Letter, FBI Investigation, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

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, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Other Entries, Real Anthrax Attacks

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). [Observer, 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]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, Real Anthrax Attacks

The message of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Daschle.The message of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Daschle. [Source: FBI]On October 9, two letters containing deadly anthrax spores are postmarked. One letter is sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and the other is sent to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The letters are sent from a mailbox in Trenton, New Jersey. They could be sent any time after 5 p.m. on October 6 (the last pick up on the day, a Saturday), and before 5 p.m. on October 9. (There is no pickup on October 7, a Sunday, and October 8 is Columbus Day.) The letter to Daschle is opened by one of his staffers on October 15 (see October 15, 2001). It contains the message:
bullet 09-11-01
bullet YOU CAN NOT STOP US.
bullet WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.
bullet YOU DIE NOW.
bullet ARE YOU AFRAID?
bullet DEATH TO AMERICA.
bullet DEATH TO ISRAEL.
bullet ALLAH IS GREAT.
The writing is the same slanted, block style used in the earlier wave of anthrax letters (see September 17-18, 2001), and the content of the message is very similar. The letter to Leahy is mis-routed and not discovered until mid-November (see October 15, 2001). It contains the exact same message. Unlike the earlier wave of letters, both of these letters contain return addresses, but to bogus addresses in other New Jersey towns. The anthrax in the letters is also deadlier than the anthrax in the earlier letters. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

The envelope to the Tom Daschle letter.The envelope to the Tom Daschle letter. [Source: FBI]Two Democratic senators are targets of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). On this day, Senator Tom Daschle’s office opens a letter mailed October 9, containing a lethal dose of anthrax (see October 6-9, 2001). A similar letter to Senator Patrick Leahy mailed the same day and from the same location is misrouted to Virginia on October 12, and is not discovered until November 17. Neither Leahy nor Daschle come into contact with the anthrax, but some of Daschle’s staffers do. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: P. Patrick Leahy, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

Twenty-eight congressional staffers test positive for anthrax. The Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] None of the staffers are killed by the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001).

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, Patriot Act, Real Anthrax Attacks

In mid-November 2001, a second anthrax letter appears in Senator Tom Daschle’s office. According to a later Washington Post article, “This [letter] had passed through irradiation equipment to kill anthrax spores, and the powdery material packed in the envelope tested benign.” Details about the letter are scanty, but it is known that it is postmarked in mid-November from London. The white powder apparently is harmless talc. The letter contains similar language to the real anthrax letters, except the phrase “Stop the bombing” is added. Scientist Steven Hatfill, who is already starting to come under suspicion for the anthrax attacks (see Late 2001), is in Britain at the time, attending a specialized training course to become a UN weapons inspector in Iraq. The course takes place about 70 miles from London. This increases suspicions on Hatfill and the FBI asks British police to help retrace his every move. But it is never shown that he had anything to do with the letter. It is unknown if the letter contains any writing or other clues that would match the deadly anthrax letters. [Associated Press, 1/4/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks

The envelope mailed to the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office.The envelope mailed to the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office. [Source: FBI]The Connecticut State Attorney’s Office receives a threatening letter containing a white powdery substance. The letter, addressed to US Attorney John A. Danaher, mentions anthrax, and references Osama bin Laden. Laboratory analysis will confirm that the white powder does not contain anthrax or any other toxins. The office will be closed for two days. The letter is later found to have been mailed from a prison in Cheshire, Connecticut, and the mailer is soon identified as inmate Noel Davila. Davila will confess to preparing and mailing the letter. He will be convicted of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction, and will be sentenced to 35 years in prison. [Associated Press, 9/23/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Noel Davila, John A. Danaher

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Fraudulent Anthrax Attacks, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters

On February 2, 2004, the deadly toxin ricin is detected on an automatic mail sorter in the Senate office building mailroom that serves the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Subsequent tests confirm the substance is ricin. No one gets ill. Some buildings are closed, but Senate business continues as usual. It is presumed that the ricin arrived in a letter, but the letter is not found, leaving few clues. [CNN, 2/4/2004] About two months later, it is reported that laboratories are continuing to analyze the ricin in an attempt to determine where it came from, but no suspects or likely motives have been identified. In October 2004, two letters were intercepted in South Carolina and Tennessee containing real ricin. Letters were found with the ricin objecting to new rules for truckers. One letter was intended to go to the Department of Transportation and another to the White House. But it is unknown if there is any connection between those letters and the ricin in Frist’s office, although Frist represents Tennessee. It is also unknown if there is any connection to the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). According to the Associated Press, “Unlike anthrax spores, ricin requires little scientific training to engineer and is not nearly as dangerous to handle.” [Associated Press, 3/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bill Frist

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation

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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