2001 anthrax attacks

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File:Daschle letter.jpg
A letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle containing 'weaponized' anthrax powder caused the deaths of two postal workers.

The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on September 18, 2001 (after the September 11, 2001 attacks). Letters containing anthrax bacteria were mailed to several news media offices and two US Senators, killing five people. The crime remains unsolved.


Seven letters are believed to have been mailed, resulting in twenty-two infections. Five died.

The first set of anthrax letters had a Trenton, New Jersey postmark dated September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Five letters are believed to have been mailed at this time, to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and the New York Post, all in New York City; and the National Enquirer at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida.[1] AMI also publishes a tabloid called Sun where Robert Stevens, the first person who died from the mailings, worked. Only the New York Post and NBC News letters were actually found; the existence of the other three letters is inferred from the pattern of infection. (Some unconventional theories of the case do not posit five letters [2]). The anthrax found in the New York Post letter was described as a coarse brown granular material looking like Purina Dog Chow.

Two additional anthrax letters, bearing the same Trenton postmark, were dated October 9, three weeks after the first mailing. The letters were addressed to two Democratic Senators, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. More potent than the first anthrax letters, the material in the Senate letters was a highly refined dry powder consisting of approximately one gram of nearly pure spores. Some reports described the material in the Senate letters as "weaponized" or "weapons grade" anthrax. The Daschle letter was opened by an aide on October 15, and the government mail service was shut down. The unopened Leahy letter was discovered in an impounded mail bag on November 16. The Leahy letter had been misdirected to the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Virginia, due to a misread Zip code; a postal worker there, David Hose, contracted inhalation anthrax.

Twenty-two people developed anthrax infections, eleven of the life-threatening inhalation variety. Five died of inhalation anthrax. In addition to the death of Robert Stevens in Florida, two died from unknown sources, possibly cross-contamination of mail: Kathy Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant from New York City; and Ottilie Lundren, a 94-year old woman from Oxford, Connecticut, who was the final victim. The two remaining deaths were employees of the Brentwood mail facility in Washington, D.C., Thomas Morris Jr. and Joseph Curseen.

Thousands of people took a two-month course of the antibiotic Cipro in an effort to preempt anthrax infections.


Across the street from Princeton University, anthrax was found in the center mailbox.
A reward for information totalling US$2.5 million is being offered by the FBI, U.S. Postal Service and ADVO, Inc.

As of September 2005, the anthrax investigation seems to have gone cold. Authorities have traveled to four different continents, interviewed more than 8,000 individuals and have issued over 5,000 subpoenas. The number of FBI agents assigned to the case is now 21, ten less than a year ago. The number of postal inspectors investigating the case is nine.

The FBI and postal inspectors are in the process of preparing an internal report reviewing the history of the investigation. The report will include a list of "persons of interests" and the latest on the scientific tests used on the anthrax material. Investigators still have not determined the lab used to make the anthrax.

("Little Progress In FBI Probe of Anthrax Attacks", The Washington Post, September 16, 2005 [3]; "In 4-Year Anthrax Hunt, F.B.I. Finds Itself Stymied and Sued", The New York Times, September 17, 2005 [4])

A "person of interest"

The Justice Department has named no suspects in the anthrax case. Although Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled Dr. Steven Hatfill a "person of interest" in a press conference, no charges have been brought against him. Hatfill, a virologist, has vehemently denied he had anything to do with the anthrax mailings and has sued the government for violating his constitutional rights. He has also sued The New York Times and its columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and, separately, Donald Foster and others, for defamation. (The case against The New York Times was initially dismissed, but was reinstated on appeal. Nicholas Kristof has been dropped from the suit. [5] [6])

The anthrax

The letters contained at least two grades of anthrax material; the coarse brown material sent in the media letters and the fine powder sent to the two Senators. In addition, it has been suggested the anthrax material sent to the National Enquirer and then forwarded to AMI may have been an intermediate grade similar to the anthrax sent to the Senate.[7] The brown granular anthrax sent to media outlets in New York City caused only skin infections, cutaneous anthrax. The anthrax sent to the Senators caused the more dangerous form of infection known as inhalation anthrax, as did the anthrax sent to AMI in Florida. Although the anthrax were of different grades, all of the material derived from the same bacterial strain. Known as the Ames strain, it was first researched at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Ames strain was then distributed to at least fifteen bio-research labs within the US and six overseas.

Radiocarbon dating conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in June 2002 established that the anthrax was cultured no more than two years before the mailings.

The Princeton mailbox

In August 2002, investigators found anthrax in a Princeton, New Jersey city street mailbox, which was likely used to mail some or all of the letters. All mailboxes that could have been used to mail the letters (over 300) were tested for anthrax, with only one positive result. The mailbox was located at 10 Nassau Street, which adjoins the Princeton University campus.

The return address

The letters addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy have the return address:

4th Grade
Greendale School
Franklin Park NJ 08852

The address is fictitious. Franklin Park, New Jersey exists, but the Zip code 08852 is for nearby Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. There is no Greendale School in New Jersey.

The notes

The first anthrax note

The New York Post and NBC News letters contained the following note:

The second anthrax note

The second note that was addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy read:


The notes were apparently photocopied and then trimmed. [8]

Amateur investigators and journalists

A number of people outside government have taken an interest in the anthrax case, analyzing clues and developing theories. ("Armchair Sleuths Track Anthrax Without a Badge", The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2002 [9])

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg has been a major figure outside the anthrax investigation. A few months after the anthrax attack, Rosenberg started a campaign to get the FBI to investigate her suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill. She gave talks and interviews suggesting the government knew who was responsible for the anthrax attacks, but did not want to charge the individual with the crime. She believed the person responsible was a contractor for the CIA and an expert in bio-warfare. She created a profile of the anthrax attacker that fit her suspect Dr. Hatfill. Rosenberg spoke before a committee of Senate staffers suggesting Hatfill was responsible, but did not explicitly provide his name. The highly publicized FBI scrutiny of Dr. Hatfill began shortly thereafter.

Don Foster

Donald Foster is the author of the article, "The Message in the Anthrax" (Vanity Fair, October 2003). Unlike other amateur investigators, Foster was an insider in the case and has helped the FBI in the past as a forensic linguistic analyst. Foster believes a series of bio-terror hoaxes trails his prime suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill.

According to Hatfill's defamation lawsuit against Foster, Foster had previously argued based on the writing and language of the letters that the perpetrator could be a foreigner who spoke Arabic or Urdu. The lawsuit cited a October 23, 2001 appearance by Foster on ABC’s Good Morning America; an article that quoted him in the November 5, 2001 issue of TIME; and a December 26, 2001 The Times article that quoted him.

Foster has been accused of exaggerating his own importance and providing misleading testimony in other high profile crime cases. [10] [11]

Ed Lake

Ed Lake started the web site http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com, which contains most, if not all, of the news articles published concerning the incident. Lake thinks Dr. Steven Hatfill is innocent. Lake believes the person who mailed the anthrax letters lives near Trenton, New Jersey and had an accomplice who stole the anthrax from a laboratory. He calls his theory the "refiner-mailer theory." Lake has self-published a book, Analyzing The Anthrax Attacks, detailing his ideas in the anthrax case.

Richard M. Smith

Richard M. Smith is a computer expert who publishes on his web site, http://www.computerbytesman.com, which includes a number of articles about the anthrax case. Smith suggested that if the perpetrator looked up information such as addresses on the Internet, web server logs may contain valuable evidence.

Gary Matsumoto

Gary Matsumoto is an award-winning investigative journalist, network television broadcaster and the author of the article, "Anthrax Powder - State of the Art?" (Science, November 28, 2003), which is widely regarded as the definitive science reporting on the 2001 attacks. His article, reviewed by six Ph.D.'s prior to publication, is cited in peer-reviewed scientific journals and Ph.D. dissertations around the world. In his article, Matsumoto discusses the advanced properties of the anthrax bioaerosol found in the Senate letters. He reports that the Senate powder's engineering characteristics and chemical content are nearly identical to some of the anthrax simulant powders now being made by U.S. biodefense labs.

Ross E. Getman

Ross E. Getman, a Boston attorney, has a web site http://www.anthraxandalqaeda.com, "Al Qaeda, Anthrax and Ayman Zawahiri." Getman believes the anthrax attack was exactly what the notes in the letters suggest, namely a follow-up to the September 11, 2001 attacks by individuals connected to Al Qaeda.

Robert Pate

Robert Pate is the author of the article, "The Anthrax Mystery: Solved." at http://www.anthraxattacks.net. Pate believes Israel's intelligence service was responsible for the anthrax attack and set-up Dr. Hatfill with a series of anthrax hoaxes that occurred starting in 1997. Pate suggests Israel's motive in the anthrax attack was to get the United States to invade Iraq.

Kenneth J. Dillon

Kenneth J. Dillon is the author of the article "Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?" [12] He is a former U.S. Department of State intelligence analyst who now has a biomedical device business. In April 2005 the Department of State, on behalf of FBI, offered up to $5 million for information on Jdey, the only al Qaeda operative in North America known to have studied biology (at the University of Montreal). Dillon also argues that the anthrax he used originated in a clandestine British bioweapons program.


Contaminated mail flow

Contamination and cleanup

Dozens of buildings were contaminated with anthrax as a result of the mailings. American Media, Inc. moved to a different building. The decontamination of the Brentwood postal facility took 26 months and cost US$130 million. The Hamilton, NJ postal facility remained closed until March 2005; its cleanup cost US$65 million. The Environmental Protection Agency spent US$41.7 million to clean up government buildings in Washington, D.C. One FBI document said the total damage exceeded US$1 billion. [13]

The principal means of decontamination is fumigation with chlorine dioxide gas.

Political effects

The anthrax attacks, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks, have spurred significant increases in U.S. government funding for biological warfare research and preparedness. For example, biowarfare-related funding at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) increased by US$1.5 billion in 2003. In 2004, Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act, which provides US$5.6 billion over ten years for the purchase of new vaccines and drugs. ("Taking biodefense too far", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 2004 [14]).

Some claim the hysteria and fear caused by the anthrax attacks was a key factor in the passage of the now controversal USA PATRIOT Act and the United States Senate authorizing President Bush to go to war against Iraq. [15]

Many states across the U.S. passed laws making hoaxes more serious crimes than they were previous to the attacks.


Years after the attack, several anthrax victims reported lingering health problems including fatigue, shortness of breath and memory loss. The cause of the reported symptoms is unknown. ("Anthrax survivors find life a struggle", The Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2003) [16].

A postal inspector, William Paliscak, became severely ill and disabled after removing an anthrax-contaminated air filter from the Brentwood mail facility on October 19, 2001. Although his doctors believe that the illness was caused by anthrax exposure, blood tests did not find anthrax bacteria or antibodies, and therefore the CDC does not recognize it as a case of inhalation anthrax. ("After a Shower of Anthrax, an Illness and a Mystery", The New York Times, June 7, 2005) [17]


NBC's Tom Brokaw was one of the targets in the first mailing.

The attacks

  • October 12: The (already opened) anthrax letter to NBC News is found and turned over to the FBI. Only a trace amount of anthrax remains in the letter.
  • October 15: The letter to Senator Daschle is opened. The anthrax in the letter was described as a "fine, light tan powder" which easily flew into the air.
  • October 17: 31 Capitol workers (five Capitol police officers, three Russ Feingold staffers, 23 Tom Daschle staffers), test positive for the presence of anthrax (presumably via nasal swabs, etc.). Feingold's office is behind Daschle's in the Hart Senate Building. Anthrax spores are found in a Senate mailroom located in an office building near the Capitol. There are rumors that anthrax was found in the ventilation system of the Capitol building itself. The House of Representatives announces it will adjourn in response to the threat.
  • October 19: Governor Thomas Ridge, Director of Homeland Security briefs the media on "potential anthrax threats." Ridge reports the tests conducted on the anthrax found as spores at the AMI building in Florida, the material from the NBC News letter and the anthrax from the Daschle letter are all "indistinguishable," meaning they are from the same strain. Also Governor Ridge reveals the FBI has found the site (mailbox) where the letters were first placed. (This initial report may have been in error.) [18]
  • October 21: Brentwood postal employee Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, dies.
  • October 22: Brentwood postal employee Joseph P. Curseen, 47, dies.
  • October 22: Governor Ridge reports at a White House press conference on the two new deaths of postal workers possibly from anthrax exposure.[19]
  • October 23: It is confirmed that the two postal handlers died of inhalation anthrax.
  • October 25: David Hose, who works at the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Virginia, is hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. The source is the Leahy anthrax letter (yet undiscovered), which was routed to the State Department mail facility in error.
  • October 25: Governor Ridge gives an update on the scientific analysis of the anthrax samples. The anthrax from the Daschle letter is described as "highly concentrated" and "pure." The material is also a "very, very fine powder" similar to talcum powder. The spore clusters are smaller when compared to the anthrax found in the New York Post sample. The opinion is the anthrax from the Daschle sample is deadlier. The New York Post sample is coarser and less concentrated than the Daschle anthrax. It is described as "clumpy and rugged" while the Daschle anthrax is "fine and floaty." Although they differ radically, Ridge emphasizes both anthrax samples are from the same Ames strain. [20]
  • October 29: Kathy Nguyen, a New York City hospital worker, is hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. The source of the anthrax is unknown.
  • October 29: Major General John Parker at a White House briefing says silica was found in the Daschle anthrax sample. Also General Parker emphases the anthrax spore concentration in the Daschle letter was 10 times that of the New York Post letter. [21]
  • October 31: Major General John S. Parker testifies before the Senate Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Service concerning the anthrax found in the Daschel letter. [22]
  • November 7: Governor Ridge in a press briefing dismisses bentonite as a binding agent for the anthrax in the Daschle letter. He says the ingredent is silicon. [23]
  • November 16: The Leahy anthrax letter is found in the impounded mail at the State Department mail facility in Sterling, Virginia.
  • November 20: Ottilie Lundgren, of Oxford, Connecticut, is diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. The source was most likely contaminated mail, although no anthrax was detected in her home.
  • November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, dies, the fifth and final person to die as a result of the mailings.


Related events

  • July 2, 2002: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes "Anthrax? The F.B.I. Yawns." Kristof talks about a "Mr. Z" (later identified as Steven Hatfill) in his column as being someone who the FBI has interviewed and who members of the biodefense community suggest may have been involved in the attacks. [26]
  • July 12, 2002: Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes "The Anthrax Files" suggesting his "Mr. Z" may have been part of several anthrax hoaxes in the past. [27]
  • December 14, 2002: The U.S. Postal Service begins to decontaminate the Brentwood mail facility 14 months after it was closed.
  • May 11, 2003: Ponds on the north side of Catoctin Mountain, near Gambrill Park Road and Tower Road in Frederick, Maryland, are under investigation by the FBI, in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks. Divers reportedly retrieved a "clear box" with holes that could accommodate protective biological safety gloves, as well as vials wrapped in plastic from a pond in the Frederick Municipal Forest. A new theory has been developed suggesting how a criminal could have packed anthrax spores into envelopes without harming himself.
  • June 28, 2003: The FBI finishes its investigation of the pond in Frederick, Maryland. Evidence found in the pond includes a bicycle, some logs, a street sign, coins, fishing lures and a handgun. The FBI takes soil samples from the bottom of the pond for testing. No anthrax is found.

See also


  • Leonard A. Cole, The Anthrax Letters, A Medical Detective Story (Joseph Henry Press, 2003) ISBN 030908881X [28]
  • Robert Graysmith, AMERITHRAX: The Hunt for the Anthrax Killer (Berkley Books,2003) ISBN 0425191907
  • Marilyn W. Thompson, The Killer Strain, Anthrax and a Government Exposed (HarperCollins,2003) ISBN 006052278X

External links

Analysis and theories


Recent articles

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