Anthrax Attacks Pushed Open an Ominous Door
By Barbara Hatch Rosenberg 22 September, 2002
PURCHASE, N.Y. -- On this first anniversary of the anthrax attacks, a number of conclusions can be drawn even without an arrest by the FBI. First, the strain and properties of the weaponized anthrax found in the letters show that it originated within the U.S. biodefense program, where the necessary expertise and access are found. Government officials recognized that the anthrax source was domestic less than two weeks after they learned of the letters, and nothing in their investigation has led them to say otherwise since.
One can also conclude that, given the origin of the anthrax and the warnings contained in the letters, the perpetrator's motive was not to kill but rather to raise public fear and thereby spur Congress to increase spending on biodefense. In this, the attacks have been phenomenally successful.
Paradoxically, however, by breaking the taboo on using biological weapons, the attacks have engendered a threat that could dwarf Sept. 11. Modes of successful attack and public responses have now been demonstrated for the instruction of future terrorists. What's more, it seems to have been easy to hide incriminating evidence, and, after a whole year of FBI bumbling, it looks likely that the attacker will get away with the crime. Although the death toll was relatively low, the strikes crippled business, government and postal services. Contamination in buildings has proved difficult, costly and time-consuming to remove, with some facilities still not restored; the public health system was strained beyond capacity.
Although biodefense has gotten a shot in the arm, it is important to understand that the goal of defending against bioweapons is not primarily public protection--which is largely impossible, as last year's attacks demonstrated. It is rather "to allow the military forces of the United States to survive and successfully complete their operational missions ... in battlespace environments contaminated with chemical or biological warfare agents," according to the annual report of the Department of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense Program.
Biological weapons are preeminently anti-population weapons. But it would be impossible to provide the entire country with protective suits, masks, detectors, shelters, training and vaccinations against the large and growing array of potential agents. In any event, vaccinations can have serious side effects and can be overcome if the dose of the pathogenic agent is large or if the agent has been engineered to evade the vaccine.
Instead of protection, the civil defense response is entirely concerned with limiting the damage should an attack occur. There are also paradoxes here. Because of the rush to "do something," large amounts of government money are being thrown, without sufficient forethought, at research involving potential biological weapons agents. Scientists go where the money is, and we're now seeing a crowd of biologists lacking in relevant experience trooping to the trough.
The number of research laboratories and personnel handling dangerous pathogens is about to mushroom, making oversight and adequate safety and security control much more difficult to impose--particularly with the increased emphasis on secrecy. Ultimately, the very problem that made the anthrax attacks possible will be magnified.
One can confidently expect the U.S. to squander resources that could far better be used to extend the modest improvements being made in the public health system. Natural outbreaks of disease, including rapidly emerging new diseases for which we are unprepared, are a far more likely hazard for most people. Improving the public health system's ability to respond would help combat these diseases as well as biological attacks.
The anthrax probe has disclosed an astounding degree of irresponsibility and lack of security at Ft. Detrick, Md., home to the nation's premier existing biodefense laboratory. The problems stretch back for decades and extend beyond the anthrax attacks. In spite of a security crackdown there following the attacks, two incidents have occurred this year at Ft. Detrick in which spores escaped from a high-containment laboratory and were found in hallways, offices and locker rooms. One case was recognized only when an unauthorized employee took swabs outside the laboratory to check for anthrax contamination--something no one had thought of doing there before.
The anthrax investigation has raised questions about the nature and value of the work at Ft. Detrick and has brought to light the granting of security clearance and free access to highly dangerous biological agents to someone with falsified credentials--very disturbing whether or not he turns out to be the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.
Even more serious concerns have been raised by the discovery of secret biodefense projects that push against the limits of international prohibitions. It was recently revealed that an Army laboratory in Utah has been secretly making weaponized anthrax for some years. Another secret project involved the construction of bomblets designed for dispersion of biological agents, although the Biological Weapons Convention explicitly prohibits developing, producing or possessing "means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes." Such projects have raised suspicions abroad that the U.S. continues to develop biological weapons--suspicions that, even if not true, are likely to spur a new biological arms race.
Experts agree that a significant bioterror attack today would require the support of a national program to succeed. But for two years now, the U.S. has opposed every international effort to monitor the ban on the development and possession of biological weapons by states or to strengthen the toothless Biological Weapons Convention in any way.
The anthrax attacks have not altered that stance. Two weeks ago, I attended an informal meeting in Geneva where diplomats from six continents struggled in the face of U.S. intransigence to map out a joint strategy for combating the global biological threat. The United States had demanded that a formal Biological Weapons Convention conference, scheduled to take place during two weeks in November, should instead disband in one day with only an agreement not to meet again until 2006. To make sure that the American resolve prevails in this setting where international consensus is de rigueur, the U.S. demand was accompanied by an overt threat to disrupt any further proceedings with accusations that would make productive international action impossible.
At that Geneva meeting, the assembled diplomats, representing the political spectrum from our closest allies to declared enemies, were uniformly frustrated. They find it hard to comprehend why a country that has just been the victim of bioterrorism should stand in the way of peaceful efforts supported by all its allies to deter bioterrorism.
It is surprising how quickly public terror in response to the anthrax attacks turned to public indifference. But the story isn't over. The likelihood of bioterrorism is increasing, and the American public is still the preferred target. Government decisions will be critical in determining the sequel. The preservation of public health and safety, like freedom, will now require public vigilance.
|Sept. 18, 2001||Trenton||Mailing of anthrax letters to NBC and NY Post and probably to the National Enquirer.|
|Sept. 20||St. Petersburg||Mailing of hoax letters to NBC and probably to NY Post [and National Enquirer?]|
|Sept. 21||place?||Mailing of accusatory letter to Quantico Marine Base accusing Dr. Asaad, former USAMRIID scientist, as terrorist.|
|Sept. 19-25||NYC||NBC received and opened ANTHRAX letter (brown granular sandy); not recognized as dangerous, and not reported by media.|
|Sept. 25||NYC||NBC received and opened HOAX letter postmarked 20 Sept; notified FBI but incident not reported by media.|
|Oct. 1||DC||Washington Times article quoting SH (reprint from 11 Aug 97).|
|Oct. 2||Boca Raton||Stevens (AMI) checked into hospital, near death, undiagnosed.|
|Oct. 4||Boca Raton||First report of anthrax case, 5pm (Stevens, AMI).|
|Oct. 5||Boca Raton||Death of first anthrax victim (Stevens, inhalation anthrax).|
|Oct. 5||St. Petersburg||Mailing of hoax letters hoax letters to J. Miller at NY Times and H. Troxler at St. Petersburg Times.|
|Oct. 5-8||US media||Suspicion of possible bioterrorism is increasing but mail not implicated.|
|Oct. 6-7||Boca Raton||At AMI, spores found in 2nd worker and on Stevens' computer keyboard.|
|Oct. 8||Boca Raton||2nd worker (Blanco, mailroom worker) at AMI sick, nasal spores detected; FBI takes over investigation, seals AMI office. Blanco later confirmed to have inhalation anthrax.|
|Oct. 9||US media||Looks like bioterrorism (letters not yet recognized as source).|
|Oct. 9||St. Petersburg||Troxler (St. P Times) opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 9||Trenton||Mailing of anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy.|
|Oct. 10||Boca Raton||3rd AMI worker (2nd in mailroom) tests positive for anthrax. FBI now conducting criminal investigation. Anthrax strain appears to be Ames.|
|Oct. 10-12||US media||First suspicion that source of anthrax at AMI might be a letter (not found), since two of those affected work in mailroom.|
|Oct. 12||NYC||Miller at NYT opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 12-13||US media||First reports of any anthrax of hoax letters to media.|
|Oct. 12||NYC||NBC cutaneous anthrax case reported (Brokaw's Assistant). First symptom was 25 Sept.|
|Oct. 13||NYC||NBC anthrax letter and hoax letter first reported. (FBI had ignored NBC hoax letter, opened 25 Sept., until anthrax diagnosed on 12 Oct.) Brokaw's Assistant now recalls seeing a second letter, weeks earlier, containing a brown, granular substance, most of which was discarded but letter retained.|
|Oct. 13||Boca Raton||At least 6 workers at AMI have tested positive for anthrax and are on antibiotics.|
|Oct. 14 ff||US media||Copycat hoax letters now appearing.|
|Oct. 15||DC||Daschle's office opened anthrax letter.|
|Oct. 16||NYC||Infant who was at ABC office on 28 Sept. has cutaneous anthrax. No further evidence at ABC, suggests case due to cross-contamination of mail.|
|Oct. 16||Trenton||Two postal workers report possible symptoms; by 20 Oct both diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.|
|Oct. 19||NYC||NY Post anthrax employee diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax (symptoms started 22 Sept); letter with anthrax found unopened in mailroom. Employee remembers opening a similarly-addressed (hoax) letter earlier.|
|Oct. 20||US Media||First mention that source of anthrax letters is probably domestic.|
|Oct. 21||DC||Several DC postal workers may have anthrax. By 25 Oct, two DC postal workers were dead and two more ill, as well as a State Dept. mail processer, all with inhalation anthrax.|
|Oct. 24 ff||US media||Increasing concentration on domestic source for letters.|
|Oct. 31||NYC||Dead from inhalation anthrax: Kathy Nguyen, hospital worker. No source found; presumed cross-contamination of mail, although clinical observations suggest a large initial dose.|
|Nov. 9||US Media||FBI released profile of sender of anthrax letters, implying the source is domestic.|
|Nov. 15||UK||Mailing of hoax letter to Daschle office in Capitol.|
|Nov. 16||DC||Anthrax letter to Leahy found unopened in bag of Congressional mail held without distribution since Daschle letter received.|
|Nov. 16||CT||Connecticut woman dies of inhalation anthrax; source probably cross-contamination of mail.|
|Jan. 03, 2002||DC||Daschle's Capitol office opened hoax letter (delay in receipt due to irradiation of Capitol mail).|
I have never mentioned any names in connection with the anthrax investigation, not to the FBI, nor to media, nor to Senate Committees or staffs, not to anyone. I have never said or written anything publicly that pointed only to one specific person. Anyone who sees parallels is expressing his own opinion.
It is the FBI that has gone out of its way to make one suspect's name public. I presume they must have had some good reason for doing that; only time will tell. But if the publicity was not an important part of their investigative strategy, I think it was reprehensible.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg
For more than three months now the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American. This conclusion must have been based on the perpetrator’s evident connection to the US biodefense program. In addition to this signpost, the perpetrator has left multiple, blatant clues, seemingly on purpose: second letters, addressed similarly to the anthrax letters and containing powder, sent to most (and possibly all) the anthrax recipients; similar letters sent to several other media organizations; even a letter, addressed to the Military Police at the Quantico Marine Base, accusing a former USAMRIID scientist (with whom the anonymous writer says he once worked) of having bioterrorist intentions. Almost all the letters were mailed before there were any reports of anthrax letters or of hoax letters sent to media (see "Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks" below for a chronology and discussion of the available data). The postal addresses and dates of these letters map out an itinerary of the perpetrator(s) and indicate certain connections, which taken together must single out the perpetrator from the other likely suspects.
This evidence permits a more refined estimate of the perpetrator’s motives. He must be angry at some biodefense agency or component, and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government’s inability to respond. He is cocksure that he can get away with it. Does he know something that he believes to be sufficiently damaging to the United States to make him untouchable by the FBI?
The perpetrator is surely too smart to believe that either the FBI’s ludicrous recent actions or the White House protestations of ignorance mean that the authorities are not on to him. Blanketing Central New Jersey with fliers showing handwriting that was obviously disguised can’t possibly evoke useful information, nor can letters to 32,000 American microbiologists, 31,800 of whom live in a different world from the perpetrator. This is no way to instill public confidence in the competence of the FBI. The press is increasingly questioning the situation, and other scientists have independently raised similar issues (see, for example, "In Search of the Anthrax Attacker" http://www.redflagsweekly.com/nassanthrax3.html). Most importantly, the apparent lack of action is sending a dangerous message to potential bioterrorists.
Four letters with anthrax have been found, and a fifth (to AMI) was apparently discarded after opening. In addition, at least three of the five anthrax recipients also received "hoax" letters containing an innocuous powder; and several different media offices received similar hoax letters. Some of the hoax letters were mailed BEFORE the first anthrax case (in Florida) was reported, and all but one hoax letter were mailed BEFORE there were any reports of anthrax letters or hoax letters. Therefore the hoax letters targeting media are not simply a copycat phenomenon. The envelopes on most or all of the hoax letters were addressed in block capitals similar to the addresses on the anthrax envielopes, even though they were mailed before the anthrax envelopes became known. A photograph of one hoax letter (to St. Petersburg Times) has been published, and descriptions or comparisons of others have been reported. If analysis confirms that the hoax letters were sent by the anthrax perpetrator, their postmarks will indicate his itinerary (or the assistance of an accomplice)—see chronology below.
At least three hoax letters, known to have been mailed from St. Petersburg, are similar in many ways to each other and to the anthrax letters: addresses written in similar block capitals, tone of letters, unconvincing misspellings. Were the enclosed letters also xeroxed? no fingerprints? stamps not licked? Are the other hoax letters similar?
Furthermore, an anonymous letter accusing a former USAMRIID scientist of plotting terrorism was sent to police BEFORE any anthrax letters or disease were reported. The letter contains evidence that the anonymous writer had probably worked at USAMRIID. This letter may also come from the anthrax perpetrator.
|Sept. 18, 2001||Trenton||Mailed anthrax letters to NBC and NY Post (and probably to National Enquirer).|
|Sept. 20||St. Petersburg||Mailed hoax letter to NBC and possibly to NY Post** [& Natl. Enq.?]|
|Sept. 19-25||NBC received & opened anthrax letter (brown granular sandy); not recognized as dangerous.|
|Sept. 25||NBC received & opened hoax letter.|
|late Sept.||place?||Mailed letter to Quantico Marine Base accusing Dr. Asaad, former USAMRIID scientist, of being a terrorist.|
|Oct. 4||First report of anthrax case (in Florida).|
|Oct. 5||Death of first anthrax victim (in Florida)|
|Oct. 5||St. Petersburg||Mailed hoax letters to J. Miller at NY Times and H. Troxler at St. Petersburg Times.|
|Oct. ~5-9||place?||Mailed hoax letters to CBS (DC), Fox News and possibly to NY Post**|
|Oct. 9||Troxler (St. Petersburg Times) opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 9||Trenton||Mailed anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy.|
|Oct. 12||Miller at NYT opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 12-13||First reports of any letters to media.|
|Oct. 13||NBC anthrax case and both suspicious letters first reported. (FBI had previously overlooked events at NBC.)|
|Oct. 13||CBS News (D.C.) received envelope with powder visible on outside.|
|Oct. 8-13||Fox News received hoax letter.|
|Oct. 15||Daschle's Hart office opened anthrax letter.|
|Oct. 19||NY Post anthrax case diagnosed and letter with anthrax found unopened in mailroom. Employee remembers opening a similarly-addressed (hoax) letter**, earlier.|
|late Nov.||UK||Mailed hoax letter to Daschle office in Capitol.|
|Jan. 03, 2002||Daschle's Capitol office opened hoax letter (delay in receipt due to irradiation of Capitol mail).|
In addition, CDC, NIH, Los Alamos and a few others may have the Ames strain; the Institute for Genomic Research (MD) says they have the Ames DNA but not the bacteria.
# indicates laboratories in the US that are estimated to be more likely than the others to have weaponization capabilities
* Obtained through a FOIA request by the Washington Post (article Nov 30, 01)
+ indicates acknowledged recipients of the Ames strain from USAMRIID
On September 18, 2001, two copies of an identical letter were mailed in separate envelopes from Trenton, NJ, one to "Editor, New York Post" and the other to "Tom Brokaw, NBC TV." Each letter contained a significant quantity of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis.
On October 9, 2001, two additional copies of a slightly different letter were mailed from Trenton, NJ, the first to "Senator (Tom) Daschle" and the second to "Senator (Patrick) Leahy." Each of these letters again contained Bacillus anthracis but of a better quality than the letters mailed to New York.
As a result of these mailings and the resulting bacterial infections, there are five innocent persons who are dead, including a ninety-four year old Connecticut Woman. Additional cases of cutaneous anthrax have infected numerous individuals including a seven month old baby in New York City.
I would like to appeal to the talented men and women of the American Society for Microbiology to assist the FBI in identifying the person who mailed these letters. It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual. A review of the information-to-date in this matter leads investigators to believe that a single person is most likely responsible for these mailings. This person is experienced working in a laboratory. Based on his or her selection of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis one would expect that this individual has or had legitimate access to select biological agents at some time. This person has the technical knowledge and/or expertise to produce a highly refined and deadly product. This person has exhibited a clear, rational thought process and appears to be very organized in the production and mailing of these letters. The perpetrator might be described as "stand-offish" and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting. It is possible this person used off-hours in a laboratory or may have even established an improvised or concealed facility comprised of sufficient equipment to produce the anthrax.
It is important to ensure that all relevant information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is brought to the attention of the investigators in this case. If you believe that you have information that might assist in the identification of this individual, please contact the FBI via telephone at 1-800-CRIME TV (1-800-274-6388) or via email at the following website: Amerithrax@FBI.gov
There is also a $2.5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible in this case.
[Note: The ASM cover letter, explaining the FBI request for the mailing, contains the following statement: "The action was criminal and not ideological."]2. White House Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Q Ari, what can the White House say about this report on anthrax, that there's been a suspect for three months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've noted that report and I've done some digging into the topic. I wish it was that easy and that simple right now, but unfortunately, there still are several suspects. There's not as if there's only one. And so the FBI is continuing its investigative efforts. That story, I think, was a little overreaching in saying there's just one. The FBI has not narrowed it down to just one; they are continuing their investigation.
Q Well, is it an American, and is it a scientist from Fort Dietrick that is being looked at out of the group that you're saying, possibly?
MR. FLEISCHER: All indications are that the source of the anthrax is domestic. And I can't give you any more specific information than that. That's part of what the FBI is actively reviewing. And I just can't go beyond that.
Q And on a personal note for the victims, some of the victims who are still alive who suffered from the anthrax have not heard from the Homeland Security Director, have not heard from the President, have not heard from congressional -- like the ones who represent the Brentwood Postal facility. And some say there's insensitivity on the part of the federal government. What do you say about that, for these victims who are still suffering, who still can't read well, who are still going through years of possible rehabilitation after this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would hope that's not the case.
Q Well, it is the case. They have not been contacted.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that in all instances that the appropriate health authorities, whether they were federal government or state government or a collaboration of both, have been in touch. Very often, in the case of people who are hospitalized, the federal Centers for Disease Control was intimately involved in all areas involving the anthrax that was -- the anthrax attacks. So it's been a very difficult chapter for all concerned, particularly the families of those who lost their lives in the attack. It was difficult moments for the government.
Obviously, anybody who would engage in that type of terrorism through the mail puts people in a position where it becomes very difficult not only for them, but for local communities, for all the people who were affected by all the hoaxes that followed those attacks. But I think the federal government responded as well as it could, given the knowledge the federal government had, as quickly as it could. And if any individuals who were involved had anything more specific where they want to talk to anybody in the federal government, I know the federal government throughout the various agencies would want to respond.
Q Back on to anthrax for a minute, what's the sense here about the pace of the investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the experience that we're seen in this investigation is that these things are often very difficult to catch who did something like this. Obviously, the person who did this is very smart, has employed means that are very difficult to track. The block handwriting on the letters was chosen most likely by design, knowing how hard it is to track that type of handwriting.
And so the President would like to get this, obviously, resolved as quickly as is possible. The pace of justice is a methodical one. It's very important for them to build a case that will stand up in court, that is thorough, and is conclusive. And that's the effort of the FBI, and the President believes the FBI is doing a good, solid job.
Q Does the White House feel the government has a full handle now on the inventories of anthrax at universities, at military facilities?
MR. FLEISCHER: To the best of all the information that we have received here, that was never a question. The military laboratories, other laboratories accounted for their anthrax -- the military laboratories accounted for their anthrax, those under federal purview. And so that has not been a question, the best that I've been briefed on that topic.
CONTACT: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, PhD
Chair, Federation of American Scientists Working Group on Biological Weapons