In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, a letter-writing campaign took aim at the media and political figures. These letters, which started being mailed just a week after 9/11, contained lethal doses of anthrax. When the damage was calculated, dozens were exposed, seventeen were infected, and five were dead. Years later, questions still linger over the case dubbed "Amerithrax."
On a random Tuesday, in 2001, the world changed forever.
It was right at the end of summer, when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. This was followed, almost immediately, by subsequent crashes at the Pentagon - in Arlington, Virginia - and in the rural area of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Within hours, the life of your average American had changed. Many of the things we all took for granted were threatened by an impossible-to-perceive evil, and - with tensions high - everyone became glued to their television. We all wanted to know what had happened, who was involved, and whether or not it could happen again.
In New York City, after the Twin Towers had collapsed and left behind a mountain of ash, it seemed impossible to know how many victims had perished. The bodies of the fallen were still buried in the wreckage, and it would take months to sift through it all in order to understand just how astronomical the human cost had been.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, train and bus usage crept to a halt. Many of the services we rely on, to get us to work or for other everyday activities, were closed for days after the attack. Throughout the United States, planes were grounded for the next two days: the first unplanned closure in our history. When they resumed service, two days later, passengers were greeted with heightened tensions and increased security parameters - which have only continued to stack in the years since.
Live events, such as sporting events and concerts, were cancelled. Several skyscrapers also closed their doors for the next day or two, as this fear of the unknown had now seeped into every pore of the American psyche. Even the New York Stock Exchange - the heartbeat of American capitalism - refused to open in the days after September 11th. Trading was paused until the following Monday, September 17th.
Americans were eager to figure out what had happened the week before, and whether it would happen again.
President George W. Bush would speak later that week, on September 20th, delivering a speech on the floor of Congress. This was an occasion normally reserved for State of the Union addresses.
In his speech, President Bush condemned the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, blaming them and extremists within their midst for the attack which had taken thousands of American lives. In particular, he singled out the notorious leader of a group called al-Qaeda, named Osama bin Laden, and demanded his release into American custody.
Later in the speech, President Bush also issued the creation of a new government entity: the Office of Homeland Security. This office, which would start off as a wing of the White House, would be responsible for coordinating responses to acts of terrorism that threatened the American people, as we had seen the week before.
A week later, President Bush would announce that former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge would be heading this department, which aimed to streamline multiple departments into action following disasters and attacks.
However, before Ridge could even step into his office, he found himself facing a test like none before. A series of events, which had been put-into-motion in the aftermath of September 11th, continued to ramp up tensions throughout the United States, eventually becoming the deadliest bio-weapon attack in American history.
This is the story of Amerithrax - also known as the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Robert Stevens was born in Britain on June 20th, 1938. His wife, Maureen, was also British, and together, they would have three children: Nicholas, Heidi, and Casey.
The family lived in Lantana, Florida, an area along Palm Beach.
Robert worked as a photojournalist and a photo editor for "The Sun" - a tabloid newspaper produced by American Media Inc. AMI - as they were known - also owned "The National Enquirer," which was very similar to the paper Robert worked on, "The Sun." Both featured over-the-top stories, such as music legend Elvin Presley living-in-hiding on a Caribbean island, or celebrities having become pregnant after romantics trysts with Martians.
This was the type of stuff that Robert worked on, as a photo editor for "The Sun." It was silly stuff, which didn't take itself too seriously, and relied on exaggerated gossip.
The headquarters for American Media, Inc. was located in Boca Raton, Florida, which had brought Robert and his family to this area along the Floridian coast.
In addition to working for this tabloid, Robert liked to spend time outside. Many described him as an "outdoorsman," who liked to camp and hike whenever he could.
In the weeks after September 11th, when "The Sun" began running conspiracy theories on their headlines, connecting Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to countless world officials, Robert Stevens left on a small business trip to North Carolina.
By the time he returned home, on September 30th, he had begun to exhibit flu-like symptoms.
On October 2nd, 2001, Robert visited a nearby hospital - the JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida - to get checked out. His symptoms had begun to worsen, and he was now facing a 102-degree fever, along with significant vomiting, and - scariest of all - had begun experiencing some significant confusion. The doctor, at the time, believed that Robert may have come down with meningitis, and began running tests to confirm or disprove this diagnosis.
Robert was sent home, and the tests came back with a result the very next day.
On October 3rd, it was determined that Robert Stevens had somehow caught pulmonary anthrax, which had symptoms very similar to the flu. These included chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, and vomiting - many of which matched up with Robert's deteriorating condition.
On Thursday, October 4th, Robert Stevens was hospitalized with a very rare form of anthrax infection, which implied that he had inhaled the bacteria, and it had taken root in his lungs. He was almost immediately put on a respirator, and treated with intravenous penicillin.
Later that day, Dr. Steven Wiersma - an epidemiologist who worked for Florida's Department of Health - was called in to begin investigating this Florida outbreak. Shortly after his arrival, he spoke at a small-scale press conference, where he announced that a patient at the JFK Medical Center had indeed been infected with anthrax, but they believed it to be an isolated case.
An anthrax infection can occur in four forms: via skin, lungs, intestinal, or injectional. Each of the forms vary in severity, with the skin infections being the easiest to treat.
The inhalational form of anthrax, which is what Robert Stevens had been diagnosed with, was perhaps the most difficult to treat. It carried with it a nearly 90% fatality rate, because - more often than not - symptoms didn't present themselves until the infection had already spread to the lungs and throughout the chest cavity. Once the anthrax spores lodge themselves in your lymph nodes and lungs, they then begin creating bacteria, which releases toxins that continue the spread of infection.
Once the infection spread, it led to symptoms such as difficulty breathing - due to a massive swelling of the lungs - tissue destruction, and eventually - hemorrhaging.
As such, the inhalation form of anthrax could be treated, but required the early administration of an antibiotic, such as Ciprofloxacin.
Found most often in wildlife, anthrax was an infection that was found in sheep, cattle, and horses. It had also been found in soil, having shown the ability to survive in a resting state as tiny spores for decades on-end.
Anthrax infections were found primarily in skin infections or gastrointestinal issues, from people that came in-contact with or ate infected animals. However, these infections were very, very rare.
Martin Hugh-Jones, a professor at Louisiana State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, was asked about his experience with anthrax:
"This year we're at the end of a very bad outbreak in northern Minnesota, a small outbreak in South Dakota and out outbreak in Alberta [Canada]. There were also a whole lot of dead deer with the disease found in west Texas.
"Last year was a bad year - about 250 animals died from it. But overall, it's not a major problem - especially compared to say, parasites, [or] pneumonia."
This kind of information began to raise the question: how did Robert Stevens contract this infection, the likes of which hadn't been seen in decades.
Sue Bailey, the former-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, stated:
"It sounds as though this is someone who may have come in contact with some anthrax spores which can live, for instance, in dirt or soil for a long time."
Investigators began looking into Robert's recent travels, as indicated by Debbie Crane, a spokeswoman for North Carolina's public health division:
"We know he visited Charlotte, Chimney Rock, and Duke University. We know that he began to feel badly last Sunday and left Duke University to drive back to South Florida."
As officials tried to get to the bottom of Robert's exposure to anthrax, they continued to stress that this was an isolated incident - not at all indicative of a large-scale problem. After all, anthrax was not an infection that could spread from person-to-person. It had been seen spreading in animals in the past, but there had been a sign that it had become contagious within humans.
And, for what it was worth, Robert's infection - which came via anthrax spores infecting his chest - implied that he had directly breathed in some kind of infectious agent.
Tommy Thompson, the Health and Human Services Secretary, spoke about this, as well:
"There is no reason to think that this incident is anything other than what we have seen in the United States over recent years. it is a rare illness but it has manifested itself in Florida many years ago, as well as other states in the country in more recent years. And there is no reason to believe at this juncture that this is anything other than the manifestation of a rare and obviously serious illness that has found its way into the life of one individual."
By Friday, October 5th, the health of Robert Stevens had continued to deteriorate. In a news report from earlier in the day, he was listed as being in grave condition, and was said to be on a ventilator and sedated (by an infectious disease specialist).
Later that day - October 5th, 2001 - Robert Stevens died. He was the first victim of anthrax to be killed in over twenty-five years, but he was nowhere near being the last.
Investigators tried to figure out exactly how Stevens had come in contact with anthrax. And with the seemingly-quick process, from diagnosis to death, they were running up against the clock.
For years, public officials had been worried that anthrax could be used in a potential biological terrorist attack. You see, at the time, anthrax could be found in nature and wildlife, but scientists had long-feared a weaponized version being released to the masses... and those fears seemed multiplied now that the first American death linked to anthrax had been reported since 1976.
Members of the CDC, among other branches, began to comb through the home of Robert Stevens, as well as his workplace. They were looking for anything that tested positive for anthrax. They finally found a hit at the office building of AMI (American Media, Inc.), where Robert worked.
Found on his computer keyboard were multiple hits of anthrax spores, which seemed to link the anthrax to Robert Stevens' workplace.
They began investigating this lead, to Robert's employer, when they stumbled upon another connection to this office building in Boca Raton, Florida.
Ernesto Blanco was a 73-year old employee of American Media, Inc., who worked in the mailroom of the Boca Raton office building.
Four days before the death of Robert Stevens - on October 1st - Blanco had visited a hospital nearby his home, complaining of some odd symptoms. A doctor initially diagnosed him with pneumonia, and that seemed to be that.
But then two days after the death of Robert Stevens - October 7th - CDC officials made a connection between the two. They visited with Blanco, collecting swabs of his nasal passages... which later tested positive for anthrax spores.
On October 8th, the family of Ernesto Blanco received word that he had tested positive for anthrax exposure, but seemed to have no symptoms of the infection as of yet. He was given antibiotics for treatment, and kept in the hospital in stable condition.
Following the positive tests of Blanco, and the anthrax being found in the AMI office building, employees of American Media, Inc. - three-hundred-plus staff members that worked for "The Sun" and "The National Enquirer," among others - were sent to the nearby Delray Health Center for testing. Their nasal passages were swabbed for anthrax spores, and each employee was given a two-week supply of antibiotics, as a precautionary step.
The American Media, Inc. offices were then closed for testing, as CDC officials began sweeping through the building, looking for any more signs of anthrax exposure.
It was unknown how or why the anthrax spores had been found in the offices of American Media.
Frank Pinela, a spokesman for Florida's Department of Health, stated:
"We don't know the cause. We're investigating at this time. We're leaving no stone unturned."
CDC officials began closing in on a possible connection to the AMI offices. After all, no other outbreak of the disease had been reported at this point, and it seemed like this was a relatively isolated case.
Officials there began looking into a former summer intern from Sudan, who had recently left the company. After he left, he sent an email which read "I left you all a little present," and that raised some alarms.
However, this intern was later cleared of any wrongdoing, and this lead evaporated.
Public officials began to raise the theory that American Media, Inc. had been targeted because of their name, as well as a recent run of articles published by "The Sun" and "The National Enquirer," which were very critical of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime.
Peter Amodeo, who worked for a property management firm directly next to the AMI office building, stated:
"That building makes enemies because of things they put in the paper. They have bomb scares all the time. They're always standing in our parking lot because the building is being searched."
As such, investigators began looking into a potential letter which had been sent in the month before, which had been handled by both photo editor Robert Stevens and Ernesto Blanco in the mailroom.
This letter was described as a "weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez," which AMI had received about a week before September 11th. As described by the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek:
"Inside was what was described as a 'soapy, powdery substance,' and a Star of David charm. The letter was handled by Blanco and Stevens, according to unidentified co-workers..."
After it was revealed that Robert Stevens had been diagnosed with the inhaled form of anthrax infection, it was publicly announced that this was an isolated incident. But now that anthrax had been found in the presence of a co-worker - and was found at the building they worked at - things looked less clear.
An anonymous FBI official, when asked whether or not this could be terrorist-related, stated:
"... there's more concern now since we have this second case."
John Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States, said:
"We don't have enough information to know whether this could be related to terrorism or not."
Coming so close on-the-heels of 9/11, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation began conducting tests at the places the hijackers had stayed. This included places very near to AMI headquarters, along Palm Beach, Flordia. In fact, it seemed like some of the 9/11 hijackers had attended aviation training less than a mile from the home of Robert Stevens.
It would later be discovered that at least two of the hijackers had visited hospitals in the area for skin infections - which investigators now theorized could be linked to anthrax exposure.
However, an exhaustive search of the area they stayed at could reveal no trace of any spores of anthrax.
The leads that investigators were working on seemed to be veering more and more into the realm of terrorism, but authorities wanted to make it clear that this was not a criminal investigation... at least, not yet.
As Attorney General John Ashcroft stated:
"We regard this as an investigation which could become a clear criminal investigation. And we are pursuing this with all the dispatch and care that's appropriate."
In the wake of the first anthrax death in nearly thirty years, the public at-large began to fear that anyone could be next.
On October 9th, just days after the death of Robert Stevens, a man in Manassas, Virginia entered the Prince William Hospital emergency room. He complained of flu-like symptoms, but subsequent tests came back negative for any anthrax exposure.
This man was just an example of the kind of chaos beginning to take hold over the area, in the wake of September 11th. Talking heads on the news were speculated that this might be some kind of terrorist attack, and coming hot on the heels of the biggest terror incident in American history, it had the public fearing the worst.
On October 10th, a third employee of AMI - down in Boca Raton, Florida - tested positive for anthrax spores. Just like Ernesto Blanco, the anthrax spores had been found in her nasal passage, and - despite not showing any symptoms of an infection - was given antibiotics.
The woman, who worked in the same office building as Robert Stevens and Blanco, originally asked to remain unidentified. However, she later spoke to reporters, revealing her identity as thirty-six year-old Stephanie Dailey, who was an administrative clerk for American Media, Inc. She would show no further symptoms, and returned to work on October 11th.
This third carrier of the damaging anthrax spores officially kicked off a federal criminal investigation, which began to focus on who had introduced anthrax into the AMI office building. By investigators logic, this was no accident; there was a clear determination to infect.
US Attorney Guy Lewis stated that the investigation would focus on how anthrax had been introduced to these three carriers, and what the motive had been. He promised to "Bring every resource we have to bear" in the investigation, but had to admit that authorities had not yet developed "what I'd characterize as conceivable theories about how the bacteria got into the building."
On October 12th, in New York City, a reporter for the New York Times - named Judith Miller - opened up a letter which contained a white powder. Miller, who had just co-authored a book about germ warfare, was immediately cautious about the powder, but believed herself to be the victim of a hoax.
In a lengthy investigation that followed, it was later determined that the powder in that envelope was not infectious, and that she had indeed been ensnared in a hoax.
A similar incident occurred on October 14th, on the other side of the country. A Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada - which handle software licenses issued to computer manufacturers - reported that a suspicious letter had resulted in four employees falling ill. Early reports indicated that the symptoms were similar, and a preliminary test of the co-workers seemed positive for anthrax exposure.
The suspicious letter, which had been mailed from Malaysia, immediately intrigued investigators. They believed that this might point to one of Osama bin Laden's foreign connections, as his terrorist network extended into Malaysia.
However, the very next day - October 15th - a more thorough test would reveal that none of the employees were infected with anthrax, and the letter was deemed non-threatening.
As investigators tried to figure out how and why these three workers in Florida had been exposed to anthrax, they began to learn more about anthrax itself.
Working in coordination with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, FBI officials began to theorize that the strain of anthrax which had been used to poison these AMI employees had been developed in Texas in the 1950s. It got its name from the city of Ames, Iowa, where the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories was centered. It was from Ames that this strain was shipped to labs across the country, leading to confusion around where it was developed... hence the name.
The Ames strain had been developed in a medical research lab, and had become the benchmark for identifying anthrax and creating vaccinations to infections.
Because the two exposed carriers had responded well to antibiotics and seemingly avoided any infection, investigators and CDC officials began to publicly state that they had likely been exposed to Ames strain anthrax spores.
However, this just led to more questions: such as how three employees of a Florida-based tabloid had become exposed to a laboratory-test-version of anthrax?
On September 18th, 2001 - just a week after the September 11th attack - a letter had been sent to NBC News main office, in New York City.
It is unknown where this letter had been mailed from, but it was postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey - at a facility which serves as a major collection and dispersal point for mail in the region, Trenton P&DC.
On either September 19th or 20th, a female employee of NBC News opened the letter. The letter itself was described as "hate mail," but most unusual was a substance found inside the letter, later described as being brown and granular.
Neal Shapiro, the then-president of NBC News, later stated about this employee:
"At the time she opened this, some brown stuff spilled out. She thought nothing of it at the time. It was long before Florida, the anthrax scare. It was placed with some of the hate mail."
This letter, which was put in a pile with other similar letters and notes, was then passed on to Erin O'Connor, an assistant for NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. There, it was forgotten as just another piece of mail from a crazed viewer.
A few days after this, another letter was received. This one, postmarked on September 20th and mailed from St. Petersburg, Florida, contained a white substance within.
This immediately triggered a memory from the employee that had opened the first envelope, and made her dig up the first letter for comparison.
On September 28th, Tom Brokaw's assistant Erin O'Connor noticed a lesion near her collarbone, which she believed to be a mosquito bite at first. However, after beginning to spread into a black, inch-and-a-half-sized rash, she had begun to grow alarmed.
Her father, John O'Connor, stated:
"It was more than a rash. It looked like something had gouged it out."
A few days later, on Monday, October 1st, Erin O'Connor finally visited the doctor, since the lesion on her arm had not gotten any better. In fact, her symptoms had significantly worsened, with the lesion growing into a terrible rash, and Erin developing a low-grade fever the weekend prior.
Again, her father stated:
"She had a very high fever. She got a little delirious from it."
She was prescribed Ciprofloxacin, nicknamed "Cipro," an antibiotic used to treat anthrax as well as other infections.
It wasn't until a few days after this - following the death of Robert Stevens and the news of an outbreak from a Florida mailroom - that Erin O'Connor was then diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax (also known as the skin infection from anthrax exposure).
On October 9th, the female employee that had originally opened the letter, had a skin biopsy performed. When the result came back a day or two later, it confirmed what investigators feared: that she had also been exposed to anthrax, and had to begin taking antibiotics.
Investigators demanded the letter, which had been addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. When they found out that it was still in the office, they demanded the NBC News offices to temporarily close, until they could conduct a thorough testing of the facility and make sure that there was no more public risk for anthrax exposure.
An initial test of the letter showed that it tested positive for anthrax, but that wasn't even the most alarming part of it. Investigators were concerned by the content of the letter, which read as follows, in all-caps:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENACILIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT"
The news of this letter seemed to shock Americans, as it seemed to indicate some connection between this anthrax outbreak and the terrorist organization that had perpetrated the September 11th attacks.
Now, people were beginning to fear one of the most simple, mundane tasks imaginable: opening your mail.
Anyone with similar symptoms was now fearing the worst, and heading to a hospital to get checked out. Stores were beginning to run out of antibiotic agents used to treat anthrax; in particular, stores in Florida were selling out of a two-month supply in less than two days.
In President George W. Bush's October 13th radio address, he seemed to address the many fears of the Americans who were afraid that death awaited them in their mailbox.
"I understand that many Americans are feeling uneasy. But all Americans should be assured: we are taking strong precautions. We are vigilant, we are determined, the country is alert."
Unfortunately, the anthrax panic was just getting started.
On October 13th, five more employees of American Media, Inc, down in Boca Raton, Florida, test positive for anthax spores. All were put on precautionary antibiotics, as they had not begun to show any symptoms of infection, and were not expected to develop any.
However, this was alarming because two of the five worked for the National Enquirer, in an entirely different section of AMI from the first three. This created a worry that the exposure might be worse than anticipated.
A day later, on October 14th, three more New Yorkers tested positive for anthrax spores. These included a NYPD officer and two lab technicians; all of whom handled the NBC letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. All three were expected to avoid any infection, and were being treated with antibiotics.
New York City mayor Rudy Guilani made a public comment, saying:
"They are being treated. This does not mean they have anthrax."
And that's a fair distinction to make. I think many of us, when we hear that someone tests positive for a disease or an infectious agent, automatically assume that they are infected themselves. But because of the long incubation period for anthrax, it is possible to carry the individual spores without developing any symptoms.
Tommy Thompson, the Federal Health and Human Services Secretary, said that there was "no question" that these seemingly separate incidents in New York and Florida were bio-terrorism.
"It's a biological agent, it's terrorism, it's crime, it's terrorism. Anybody that would do this is trying to create terror, trying to create fear in the American public, and that, of course, is not acceptable."
Despite government officials seeming less-than-positive about the motive for these outbreaks, it seemed like more and more were beginning to think that this was linked to terrorist attacks against the United States. Later that same day, Attorney General John Ashcroft floated the same theory, saying that Osama bin Laden himself may be behind the anthrax incidents.
"We should consider this potential, that it is linked."
On October 15th, a letter arrived at the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Daschle, a Senator from South Dakota, had been serving in Congress for over twenty years at this point in 2001. He had served in the House of Representatives from 1979 until 1987, and had been in the Senate ever since. He had been the Senate Majority for just a few months, having been in the position for two weeks in January, and then put back into the position in June of 2001.
The letter received on October 15th, had been postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey. However, its return address was later deemed fictitious. It read:
Franklin Park NJ 08852"
The letter, which was opened by one of Daschle's aides, Grant Leslie, immediately raised alarms. A fine, white powder spilled out of the envelope, and the letter itself was very similar to the one which had been sent to NBC the month prior.
YOU CAN NOT STOP US.
WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.
YOU DIE NOW.
ARE YOU AFRAID?
DEATH TO AMERICA.
DEATH TO ISRAEL.
ALLAH IS GREAT."
Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police force, stated later that day that two separate field tests came back positive for anthrax.
The roughly forty people there present in Senator Daschle's office were given antibiotics as a precaution, and sent home for the time being. Daschle's office itself was closed indefinitely for testing and decontamination, and public access throughout Washington, DC was questioned. To his credit, Senator Daschle argued on the senate floor later that day that Congress would remain active the following day, but other Senators and Representatives were less than certain.
Mail delivery throughout the nation's capitol was suspended, as were tours on Capitol Hill.
Back in New York City, the potential exposure spread to the infant son of an ABC News producer. The producer, who worked with ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, had grown suspicious in early October when her seven-month old son had begun developing a rash.
A short time after that, the child was hospitalized with an unknown ailment, and had been struggling since. The seven-month old was then diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, the skin version of the infection.
Investigators began trying to figure out how the child had contracted anthrax, learning that the child had been in the ABC News offices with his mother on September 28th. However, he had no other contact with the staff other than that recent occasion, and nobody else at the ABC News office had reported any symptoms.
To finish off the most troubling day yet of the outbreak, bad news broke along Palm Beach, in Florida.
73-year old Ernesto Blanco, who had been the second known carrier of the anthrax spores, had just now been diagnosed with the inhalation form of infection. He had been hospitalized for weeks, at this point, as well as on antibiotics for over two weeks at Cedars Medical Center in Miami. Now, he was being moved to the intensive care unit after this diagnosis.
On October 16th, in Washington, DC, several offices occupied by Congressional staffers were closed so a thorough sweep of testing could commence. Nearly eight floors of the Hart Senate Office Building were indefinitely closed.
It was revealed that the version of anthrax from the day before, which had been opened in Senator Daschle's office in that very building, had been a highly potent and incredibly pure version of anthrax. Officials described it as "high grade, very virulent, and sophisticated."
This type of powder, which was very fine, differed from the anthrax received in the first letter to NBC News. It was a highly-refined dry powder, which seemed to be military-grade stuff. In fact, it was now being publicly floated that the anthrax in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Daschle had been tested at a nearby army medical research facility, in Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Tom Ridge, the recently-appointed director of Homeland Security, remarked about the differences between this powder and the stuff found in the letter addressed to NBC News:
"It is highly concentrated. It is pure and the spores are smaller. Therefore they're more dangerous, because they can be more easily absorbed in a person's respiratory system."
Initial handwriting analysis seemed to confirm that this letter was directly connected to the letter written to NBC News, despite the differences in the anthrax strains.
Senator Daschle told the press, a day after his office was threatened:
"Clearly, they were trying to kill somebody. What this says to me is that there is an orchestrated effort under way, and that it may hit again. So we need to be ready for it.
"There have been no indications that there is a health or medical problem among any of my staff, and I'm quite confident that will remain the case."
The very next day, though - October 17th - it would be announced that over thirty people in Washington, DC tested positive for anthrax exposure. This included twenty-nine of Daschle's staffers, as well as two Capitol police officers, and three staffers that worked for Senator Russ Feingold.
Feingold's office was directly next door to Daschle's, and that seemed to cement the potency of this anthrax strain to investigators.
Following this news, the House of Representatives decided to shut down for the next few days, in order to conduct a thorough sweep of the Capitol building. Later in the week, the Senate decided to follow suit, grinding down the American legislation to a standstill while this threat continued to be investigated and - hopefully - neutralized.
On October 18th, an assistant for CBS News anchor Dan Rather tested positive for anthrax.
Claire Fletcher, who was just twenty-seven years old, had been Rather's assistant for five years.
Her test came as a shock for investigators, because she had not just been exposed to the agent; rather, she had been infected with the skin version, cutaneous anthrax. It had started with a small amount of swelling on her left cheek, but began to express itself in some of the other known symptoms.
This news came just three days after it was revealed that the infant son of an ABC News producer had come down with a similar infection, and a little over a week since it was revealed that NBC News associates had been infected or exposed to anthrax. This now provided a link to all three major news networks.
Despite the potential severity of the infection, though, Fletcher had continued working through her diagnosis, and simply added antibiotics to her daily routine.
Dan Rather, the anchor of CBS News, publicly refused to get tested for an anthrax infection, stating that the show must go on.
"Our biggest problem today is not anthrax. Our biggest problem is fear.
"We pride ourselves on being professional. We are resolute. We will not flinch. We will not bend. We will not swerve. We will put out a first-class evening newscast this evening."
Just like the infection of the infant son of an ABC News producer, it would remain unknown how Claire Fletcher had been exposed to anthrax. No letter at either office - ABC or CBS - could be found.
Later in this day - October 18th - it was revealed that a letter carrier for the West Trenton post office, over in New Jersey, had been diagnosed with the skin version of anthrax infection.
Teresa Heller, this letter carrier, had developed lesions on her skin on around September 27th. About a week later, on October 3rd, she had been hospitalized with symptoms, which weren't diagnosed until this day, October 18th. She became the sixth person to become officially infected, but wouldn't be the last.
Later that day, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, announced that his office - in cooperation with the US Postal Service - was offering up a million-dollar reward for information leading to any information about the perpetrator of these anthrax-laced letters. This came on the heels of the FBI's announcement that they had responded to over 3,300 threats involving chemical or biological weapons... a number that was over ten times its usual level.
The CDC, not to be outdone, was able to publicly announce that they had determined the anthrax sent to the offices of NBC News in New York City was the same strain sent to American Media, Inc. in Florida.
John Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States, echoed this assertion in an address later that day:
"It appears as if there are some similarities between some of the most serious of the offenses that indicates that they might be... a part of a unified organized effort, an effort either by a single individual or else an effort conduct in concert with someone else."
On October 19th, an editorial page assistant for the New York Post - named Johanna Huden - was diagnosed with the skin version of an anthrax infection.
Huden, who had been opening letters to the editor as part of her job, had noticed a blister on her finger on September 22nd - just a short time after opening up a strange letter postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey.
The letter would prove to be almost identical to the one addressed to NBC News, which had also been postmarked in Trenton, and contained identical handwriting. The content was the same, as well as the odd material found inside the envelope.
The substance found in this letter, which was later confirmed to be anthrax, was very different from the anthrax found in the letter addressed to Senator Daschle. That anthrax strain, which was a much more dangerous and concentrated grade, was described as being "fine and floaty."
The stuff found in this letter, sent the month before - at around the same time as the NBC News letter - was described as being similar to "Purina Dog Chow." It was think and chunky.
Despite the similarities between the varying grades of these samples, it was reiterated by public officials that they believed each sample came from the same strain: the Ames strain, which was often used by medical labs throughout American to develop effective vaccines and antibiotics.
Later that day, October 19th, a second postal worker from New Jersey was diagnosed with a skin infection related to anthrax exposure. Originally unidentified, the man would later be determined to be Patrick O'Donnell, a man who worked as a maintenance worker at a Trenton regional post office in Hamilton, New Jersey. He had originally visited a physician on September 26th to have a lesion on his arm treated, but it went un-diagnosed until nearly a month later. He began antibiotic treatments, and hoped to make a quick recovery.
The following day, October 20th, saw the finding of anthrax spores in the Ford Office Building, in Washington, DC. This was just a few blocks away from the Capitol, where mail was processed for legislators in the House of Representatives.
Specifically, the anthrax spores were found in and on a mail-bundling machine, which sorted mail for hundreds - if not thousands - of people.
At 4:39 AM, on the morning of October 21st, a 911 call was received by operators in the District of Columbia.
The man on the other end, who was having trouble speaking, identified himself as Thomas Morris, Jr. - a 55-year old that worked for a post office in Brentwood. At this point, it was known by investigators that this facility had handled letters meant for Senator Tom Daschle, but that was not easily-accessible public knowledge.
Morris, speaking to the 911 dispatcher, said that on October 13th, he had been near a woman who opened an envelope that contained a powdery substance. He had been told by officials that the powder was not anthrax, but he reiterated to the dispatcher that he had never been tested or treated for anthrax exposure.
"I suspect that I might have been exposed to anthrax. It was last... Saturday - a week ago - last Saturday morning at work. I work for the postal service. I've been to the doctor, went to the doctor Thursday. He took a culture, but he never got back to me with the results... Now I'm having difficulty breathing and just to move any distance. I feel like I'm going to pass out."
The week prior, Morris had made an attempt to speak to not only his doctor, but his supervisors at work. Every time, his worries had been discarded, and everyone told him that he was fine. There was no reason to be paranoid. When he visited his doctor just days before - on October 18th - a throat culture was taken, but he was diagnosed a strong version of Tylenol and told to get some rest.
Unknown to Morris, his doctor had contacted the state department of health, and had been told that mail workers were not at any real risk. It was deemed a non-issue, for the time being.
It had been three days, however, and the symptoms were not getting any better. In fact, they were quickly worsening:
"The symptoms that I've had was described to me in a letter that they put almost to the 'T,' except that I haven't had any vomiting until just a few minutes ago. I'm not bleeding, and I don't have diarrhea, but the doctor thought it was just a virus or something... So we went with that, and I was taking Tylenol for the achiness. But the shortness of breath now, I don't know - that's consistent with the, with the anthrax."
The phone call with 911 dispatchers ended at 4:50 AM, after ambulances had been dispatched to bring Thomas Morris, Jr. to the nearest hospital.
It would prove to be too late, however. Within hours, Thomas Morris, Jr. would be proven right, when he became the second casualty of an anthrax infection.
However, within 24 hours, the Brentwood mail facility would be closed for extensive testing and decontamination... and another of its employees would be dead.
In the early morning hours of October 22nd, a woman named Celestine Curseen phoned 911 in a panicked voice.
Celestine, who lived in Prince George's County, Maryland, told the 911 dispatcher that her husband - forty-seven year old Joseph Curseen, Jr. - had been found on the bathroom floor. He had apparently passed out on his way to the bathroom, and was now having trouble breathing. In fact, according to his wife, he was now having trouble staying conscious, let alone talking or putting together any coherent thoughts.
When the 911 dispatcher asked whether or not he was able to speak normally, Celestine responded:
"No. He's breathing so hard. Sometimes he won't say anything for a period of time, but yes, he's talking."
Celestine Curseen told the 911 dispatcher how her husband, Joseph, had visited Southern Maryland Hospital the day before, on October 21st. He had struggled with asthma throughout his life, but had been facing serious issues with breathing in the days prior. It had troubled him through his work week, with him having to leave early on at least one day. In fact, the day before, when they were at a Saturday church service, Joseph had actually passed out during Mass - only to regain consciousness and stay to receive Communion.
Later that day, they had stopped by Southern Maryland Hospital, to get Joseph checked out. He had then been diagnosed with dehydration, given medication, and then discharged.
Following Celestine's phone call with dispatchers, an ambulance was dispatched to their residence. Joseph Curseen, Jr. was admitted to the hospital at 5:45 AM, but the result was the same as the day before; and Joseph became the third anthrax fatality of 2001.
Later that day, two additional postal workers would be hospitalized in serious-but-stable conditions, with the inhaled version of an anthrax infection. Nine others were suspected to be ill, with similar symptoms.
On October 23rd, anthrax was detected on a letter-opening machine that screened mail for the White House, in Washington, DC.
This caused quite a scar in the media, with George W. Bush infamous telling the press:
"... I do not have anthrax."
In New Jersey, another postal worked was diagnosed with inhalational anthrax.
Some good news from Florida was received, when Ernesto Blanco - the 73-year old mailroom employee of AMI - was released from the hospital after twenty-three days.
On October 24th, David Satcher, the Surgeon General, admitted that public officials like himself were in the wrong. He said that they did not respond promptly enough to the claims of tainted mail, and should have been more perceptive to the claims made by postal workers.
A short distance away, in Maryland, three news cases of suspected inhalation anthrax infections were announced - all linked to the letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle the week prior.
On October 25th, a State Department mailroom employee in Washington, DC was hospitalized with an anthrax infection. The number of potential infections was now well into the double digits, and after the recent deaths of Thomas Morris and Joseph Curseen, postal workers and Congressional staffers were similarly on-edge.
The number of Americans taking antibiotics for possible anthrax exposure reached 10,000, just three weeks after it was first announced that anthrax had infected Robert Stevens in Palm Beach, Florida.
Tom Ridge, who had just recently been appointed the director of the new wing of the White House, Homeland Security, had begun his duties on October 8th, 2001. He had immediately been thrown into the fire, and was forced to take on this anthrax scare as his first major priority.
In a statement that probably did not really ease anyone's fears, Ridge told the media:
"Clearly, we are up against a shadow enemy, shadow soldiers, people who have no regard for human life. They are determined to murder innocent people."
It was on this day - October 25th - that the United States Postal Service began setting up spot checks at their facilities, in an effort to spot laced packages before they could spread to others.
The following day - October 26th - saw the closure of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, in order for anthrax testing to be performed.
In both New York and Florida, postal workers began demanding the closure of potentially-tainted buildings, worried that the exposure to anthrax spores was a clear and present danger. Union officials even began threatening to sue the Postal Service if these demands were not met.
Scientists and analysts at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command were trying to determine how similar the varying grades of anthrax were, comparing and contrasting the types of anthrax they could find on the letters in New York City - addressed to NBC News and the New York Post - and the letter sent to Senator Daschle.
Major General John Parker stated about their findings thus far:
"We are trying very hard to characterize anything that would be associated with this sample and we're continuing to do that research. And I won't have the absolute answers until all of those investigations are in."
A few days passed, in which no real news broke regarding any more anthrax outbreaks or investigative breakthroughs.
That silence was relatively short-lived, however, when it was revealed that another infection had taken hold; this time, in New York City.
Kathy T. Nguyen was a 61-year old employee of the Manhattan Eye, Ear, And Throat Hospital, where she worked in a medical supply room as a stock clerk. The office she worked in had once housed a mailroom, but in its current incarnation, was nowhere near the active mailroom.
Nguyen had emigrated from Vietnam in the mid-1970s, and married shortly thereafter. The marriage resulted in one child - a son - before they separated and divorced in 1982. Kathy moved into an apartment in New York City, where she had lived ever since.
In the first half of the 1990s, roughly eight years before entering the hospital, Kathy's son had died in a motorcycle accident, leaving her with no close family to speak of. She had been visited by a cousin from Vietnam once or twice, but she lived by herself and kept a low profile.
On October 25th, Kathy had told a friend that her eyes were sore. She was also quoted as saying repeatedly:
"I'm tired, I'm tired."
On October 27th, Kathy's symptoms began to progress, including bodily aches, chills, and a low-grade fever. It started to affect her work, and the normally-reliable Nguyen had to leave work early a couple of nights in a row.
On October 28th, after beginning to experience breathing issues, she asked her building's super, David Cruz, to take her to the nearby Lenox Hill Hospital. There, she was evaluated, and early the next day, she would be diagnosed with pulmonary anthrax.
Before entering intensive care, she told her physician:
"Please don't leave me. I'm just all alone in the world."
She was listed as being in "very, very serious condition," and put on a respirator that day. Doctors hoped that they could stabilize her long enough for the antibiotics to take root and snuff out the anthrax infection spreading through her lungs, but for the time being, just had to wait and see.
Later that day - October 29th - saw the emergence of another New Jersey mail carrier diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. This woman worked for a private company, which led to questions as to how she had obtained the infection.
In Washington, DC, a small amount of anthrax was found in the basement mailroom of the US Supreme Court, as well as trace amounts being found in four other federal buildings.
In Florida, investigators announced that they had finished conducting a thorough test on the vehicles and houses used by the 9/11 hijackers, and they had found zero trace of any anthrax spores. This led to them theorizing that the anthrax attacks had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks.
October 30th saw more anthrax spores being found in the mailroom of the USDA Economic Research Service headquarters, in Washington, DC. A more thorough examination and decontamination followed.
On that same day, the United States Postal Service announced that anthrax spores had been found at postal stations in northwestern Washington, DC, and at Dulles Station, in Virginia. This link to Virginia potentially exposed another state to the crisis, as it continued spreading out from Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.
On October 31st, Kathy T. Nguyen - the 61-year old stock clerk from New York - became the fourth victim to die from pulmonary anthrax.
She was remembered by neighbors and tenants that lived in her apartment building, as she had no close family to speak of. While at-work, she often kept to herself, and lived a quiet life on her own.
Anna Rodriguez, a neighbor and friend of Kathy's, stated:
"She was friendly and quiet, content to be on her own. The people in the building were like her family."
When Kathy died, an $18,000 insurance policy went without any known beneficiaries. It was eventually used to pay for her funeral, and then the rest was put into her Union's insurance fund.
Anna, Kathy's neighbor, said that her and the other tenants of the building arranged for Kathy's remembrance and memorial.
"We all lit the candles because we believe it helps the soul go to heaven. So many people wanted to pay their respects to Kathy because of the love they felt for her. She was a lovely lady."
Investigators, though, were puzzled as to how Kathy had come into contact with anthrax. Unlike some of the others that were exposed and infected, Kathy didn't work for the postal service or for a news organization. She had no direct tie to anthrax.
Stephen Ostroff, an epidemiologist for the CDC, who was leading the New York investigation, said about Kathy:
"[She is] an outlier who doesn't fit the pattern. And very often the outliers are theories that solve the problem. Since this woman was the victim of a crime, I feel doubly committed."
Investigators for the CDC and the FBI arranged a thorough search of every known location in Kathy's life: her apartment, her workplace, the homes of her neighbors and acquaintances, the subway cars she frequented, the post offices where she bought money orders, the grocery stories she used, etc. More often than not, these locations were examined closely two-or-three-times-over.
Investigators also examined her articles clothing, where they found a brief trace of anthrax on, but later tests challenged whether it was a spore of anthrax or something else undetermined.
Kathy's co-workers were also tested and examined, including the three mailroom employees for the Manhattan Ear, Nose, And Throat Hospital she worked at. All tests came back negative.
Investigators could find no feasible connection, and Kathy's exposure has remained a mystery to this day.
October 31st - Halloween of 2001 - also saw the shutting down of a major mail distribution center in New Jersey, after a suspected case of skin anthrax was announced. Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, three post office centers reopened, after they had been closed in the weeks before for decontamination.
Two days later, on November 2nd, FBI Director Robert Mueller declared that after weeks of an exhaustive, thorough investigation, the FBI still had no idea who was behind the anthrax attacks. He appealed to the public for answers, and reiterated that there was a $1 million reward active for information leading to any answers.
In addition to coming clean about the active state of the investigation, Director Mueller also had to face the wrath of the media, who blamed the FBI for their sluggish response in the early days of the anthrax outbreak.
Over the next couple of days, the FBI took a more active role; in particular, around Washington, DC. The suspension of the local area's mail delivery had led to many hundreds of barrels of mail being quarantined, and FBI analysts began testing these many barrels for traces of anthrax.
Later that day, health officials confirmed that more traces of anthrax had been found in both New York and Washington, DC.
On November 9th, the headquarters of American Media, Inc. - in Boca Raton, Florida - was finally released by investigators. They had finished their examination of the office building, clearing it of any potential anthrax exposure, but had found no conclusive evidence that pointed them to any more answers. They had been unable to find the "Jennifer Lopez love letter" described by staffers, nor any other letters that tested positive for anthrax.
Later that day, the FBI announced their belief that the perpetrator of the anthrax letters was a "lone wolf," who did not have any known ties to a terrorist group.
They theorized that this individual had used the September 11th hijackings as a cover to begin this campaign of terror, and knew that writing incendiary letters - including the phrases "death to America" and "praise Allah" - would play into current American fears.
The FBI put together a preliminary psychological profile for this attacker, stating that they might not be a native English speaker, had a background in "some" science, and could have weaponized these anthrax spores in a basement laboratory for as little as $2500.
On November 10th, a small amount of anthrax was found in four locations on Capitol Hill, including the offices of Senators Bob Graham and Dianne Feinstein. Both had their offices in the same Hart building which was shared by Senator Tom Daschle, and it was believed that this exposure was linked to the letter received on October 15th.
Two days later, anthrax was found in three more Senator offices: the senators included Richard Lugar, Barbara Boxer, and Jon Corzine. Again, this was linked to the October 15th letter addressed to Majority Leader Daschle, and implied just how potent the anthrax was; that a simple envelope of the stuff had been exposed to a large chunk of the Hart Office Building.
At this point, officials and investigators began to think that the multiple locations where anthrax had been found, were simply linked to that original letter addressed to Tom Daschle.
Because the anthrax in that letter had been noted as being very fine, almost military-grade stuff, it was believed that no new anthrax letters had been mailed since. Simply put, that one letter had likely contaminated an entire batch of mail. Exposure to that one envelope had released spores into the air, which had spread it throughout the entire Congressional office building and into other mailrooms.
The letter to Senator Daschle had passed through Sorter #17 at the Brentwood facility in Washington, DC, where it had left behind tiny spores of anthrax on the interior of the mailroom's sorting machines. Since the sorting machines were cleaned with compressed air, it was believed that this air had created currents within the Brentwood facility, where the tiny anthrax spores had continued to spread throughout the facility and latched on to anything they could find. Multiple anthrax spores had been found "downwind" of Sorter #17, which led investigators to believe this had simply increased the exposure of a single laced letter.
It is also worth noting that postal workers Thomas Morris, Jr. and Joseph Curseen, Jr. - both of whom had died of pulmonary anthrax in the weeks prior - had worked in this "downwind" area of Sorter #17.
On November 17th, it was announced that a letter had been found, which was addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy.
The letter had been misdirected to the State Department annex in Sterling, Virginia, due to a misread zip code on the label. The letter was only caught because an employee of the Sterling mail annex, named David Hose, contracted inhalational anthrax.
As I stated, the letter was addressed to Patrick Leahy, who was the current chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Just like the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, it had been postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey at around the same time. A careful examination revealed that it was "virtually" identical to the Daschle letter; containing the same message, same handwriting, and same fine, high-grade anthrax within.
It was later revealed that the letter held 23,000 individual anthrax spores, which was more than enough for two full, lethal doses.
A few days later, trace amounts of anthrax were found in two more office mailrooms: that of Senators Ted Kennedy and Christopher Dodd.
Ottilie Lundgren was a 94-year-old woman, that lived in the small town of Oxford, Connecticut.
She had been born in 1907, and was just a child when a Spanish flu epidemic swept through her hometown. She had then proceeded to live through the Great Depression, both World Wars, and had traveled the world extensively, before settling down in her early fifties. She married her husband, Carl, in 1960, and the two would fall deeply in-love.
They had no children, so when Carl was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it fell on Ottilie to take care of him until his passing.
In 2001, Ottilie lived a quiet and isolated life. She spent most of her time in the home she had once shared with her husband, only leaving for her regular weekly activities. She frequented her local library, where she checked out multiple mystery novels during each visit; her church, where she never missed a service; and her standing 11:00 AM appointment at the nearby Nu-Look Hair Salon.
On Friday, November 16th, members of Ottilie's family had come to visit her. Her niece, Shirley Davis, recalled:
"I remember she kept telling me, 'I don't know why I am so sick. What could have happened to me that I'm still sick. I've never had anything like this before.'"
Family members drove Ottilie to the nearby Griffin Hospital later that day, where she was seen by a number of doctors. They were all puzzled by her symptoms - initially believing her to have a mild respiratory tract infection - but having no idea what was wrong.
She was released, and doctors continued to run tests to try and determine what her medical predicament could be.
It was days later, when a suspicious doctor decided to test her samples for anthrax, that the cause was finally revealed.
Ottilie Lundgren was called back to the hospital, where she was isolated from the rest of her family, and examined by over thirty members of the CDC, FBI, and state officials.
Her niece, Shirley Davis, recalled this as well:
"They told me to stay away from her, don't go near her or try to kiss her and that was very upsetting. I couldn't rationalize that my poor aunt who didn't hurt a fly could have been affected by this powder and that there was nothing they could do for her."
Ottilie Lundgren remained in the hospital, under careful supervision, where she eventually passed away on November 21st - becoming the fifth victim of pulmonary anthrax.
Investigators were stumped: they could find no trace between 94-year old Ottilie Lundgren to any of the other anthrax-related cases. In fact, she seemed to be the first case of anyone in Connecticut being exposed to the bacteria, let alone getting enough of a dose to spawn an infection.
A memorial service and funeral was prepared for Ottilie, but some of her last wishes were unfortunately unable to be met. Ottilie had long wanted to be buried next to her husband, Carl, at a nearby cemetery; but because of her anthrax infection, CDC officials insisted that her remains be cremated. Her ashes were then buried next to her husband, where they remain today.
The lengthy investigation that followed tried to find any correlation between Lundgren and the other anthrax attacks. Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the director of the CDC, stated:
"We'll look at every possible cause of exposure. We've made a list of every possible route that we can think of, of how anthrax might have been acquired by a 94-year old woman who largely lives at home, and things that enter that home are certainly a prime suspect, and given recent history, mail is one of them."
A thorough test of Lundgren's home and all of her belongings could find no trace of any anthrax exposure, so investigators theorized that she had received a piece of junk mail which had crossed paths with the letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.
On November 23rd, the first trace of anthrax outside of the United States was found, on a letter addressed to a doctor in the nation of Chile.
The letter, which appeared to have been mailed through DHL from an address in Orlando, Florida, had then been sent to Switzerland. It was postmarked there, just outside of Zurich, and then sent to Chile.
The recipient, Dr. Antonio Banfi, was a pediatrician at a children's hospital in Santiago, who grew concerned over the content of the letter. It contained no powder inside, but he contacted authorities, who confirmed that there were traces of anthrax found on the letter itself. This was later confirmed by CDC officials, at their Atlanta headquarters.
It is unknown why this letter was addressed to a pediatrician in Chile, but investigators theorized that it was unrelated to the previous letters sent to politicians and news organizations in America.
Through the rest of November and December, the anthrax outbreak seemed to finally wind down.
On December 6th, traces of anthrax were found on a batch of mail inside a facility at the Federal Reserve. This batch contained 100 to 150 letters, which had likely been cross-contaminated with the anthrax-laced letters from October. No other determination could be made.
The following day, December 7th, saw government officials announce that all federal mail was now being irradiated to render any anthrax spores harmless.
On December 8th, employees of American Media, Inc. - down in Boca Raton, Florida - officially ended their two-month course of antibiotics, becoming the first in a long chain of panic-stricken Americans to end their fears of an anthrax infection. Over the coming months, many would follow them, and those that had been infected - seventeen in total - would recover.
The five victims - Robert Stevens; Thomas Morris, Jr.; Joseph Cursteen, Jr.; Kathy Nguyen; and Ottilie Lundgren - were remembered for dying to an unknown enemy, an infection spread by an unknown attacker.
As the anthrax scare began to disappear, many still asked the questions: why had this happened, and who was responsible?
Investigators had long struggled to ascertain any potential motive for the anthrax letters.
In the earliest days of the anthrax breakout - following the death of Robert Stevens, down in Florida - anonymous sources spoke to the press. They expressed their belief that the letters were tied to the September 11th hijackings; perhaps even perpetrated by the same organizations.
A White House aide infamous leaked to reporters that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had been pressuring FBI Director Robert Mueller to publicly announce some link or connection to Afghanistan, to increase public support for the burgeoning War On Terrorism.
However, in the following months, a connection began to be made to the nation of Iraq; which, as we know, became the target of the White House's ire over the next couple of years.
An anonymous source for the CIA told "The Guardian," in 2001:
"They aren't making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn't look likely politically. That leaves Iraq."
In the lead-up to the original Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's administration had been known to use an additive named Bentonite in their biological weapons. Anonymous sources like this tried to indicate some connection between the anthrax found in the letters, claiming that the anthrax seemed to have been laced with Bentonite.
However, these anonymous reports were discredited just weeks later. Government officials - including the White House spokesman - made mention of the anthrax seeming to be created with the additive silica. No trace of Bentonite had been found.
However, this allegation - that there seemed to be some link to Saddam Hussein's alleged bio-weapons program - carried on over the next year or two.
When President George W. Bush gave his State Of The Union address in January of 2003, he mentioned the weapons program created by Saddam Hussein, indicating a connection between the anthrax attacks of 2001 to the Iraqi dictator.
And sure enough, just weeks later, Secretary Of Defense Colin Powell mentioned Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program, mentioning his potential ties to the creation of anthrax in an effort to make the case for a two-front war in the Middle East.
Many people still think that the 2001 anthrax attacks were used to create a boogeyman out of the Iraqi government, and out of Saddam Hussein in particular. Now, I'm not going to defend him one iota, but it's hard to argue that the conspiracy theorists might have been on to something there. No connection between Saddam Hussein's regime and the anthrax attacks would ever be proven, but it was without a doubt used to sway public opinion towards invasion.
The anthrax attack of 2001 has long since become bait for conspiracy theorists, but another that I feel compelled to address is the potential ties it had to the US's passing of the Patriot Act.
If you are unfamiliar with the Patriot Act, then just let me tell you: it has become one of the biggest pieces of legislation in modern American history, and granted the government some privileges when it comes to oversight and battling perceived threats. Some people will say that that's exaggerating it while others will say I am massively under-stating it, but you can research it a bit on your own if you're interested.
Anyhow, the Patriot Act was passed on October 26th, 2001 - roughly a month-and-a-half after 9/11, and right in the middle of the anthrax scare. Many have long since linked the two, as a kind of grand conspiracy.
Now, if you are normally opposed to radical-sounding conspiracy theories: don't fret. I won't linger too long on this, but just want to share a paragraph or two that I found on Reddit.
In my opinion, no one has summed this connection up better than a Reddit user named /u/chacmadin:
"The first letters, on September 18th, targeted the media, this ensured that it would instantly become a major story and contribute to the national hysteria. The next letters, on October 8, targeted the upper legislative body of the US Government - specifically, its majority leader (Daschle) and its Judiciary Committe chair (Leahy). On October 23, the Patriot Act was introduced out of the House Judiciary Committee, passed the next day, and passed in the Senate the day after that, both times by large majorities. Daschle, as senate majority leader, was a powerful man and Leahy, as the Judiciary Committee chair, had special oversight on matters that the Patriot Act was meant to address. They were also in opposition to the Republican administration. And they both got letters in the weeks before the Patriot Act vote. If this was the motive, then the perpetrator was quite savvy and demonstrated a strong grasp of the inner workings of the USG (he also likely knew that Leahy and Daschle wouldn't be killed, as their mail would be handled by staffers).
"I don't want to get carried away by speculation at this point, it's better to stick to what's known. But one more thing that's uncontroversial is that the Patriot Act was an enormously consequential piece of legislation and played a big role in changing the nature of US governance in the wake of 9/11.
"Interpretations of some of its provisions were used to build the monolithic near-total-surveillance state that the NSA administers today."
The case went quiet over the next few months, as investigators continued trying to piece things together. Then, nearly a year after the original letters were mailed, news hit the wire.
On June 25th, 2002, media sources began reported that the FBI had searched the home of Dr. Steven Hatfill, a scientist that worked at the government biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Steven Hatfill, who was 48 years old at this point in 2002, had been born in Missouri. In 1975, he had enlisted in the US Army, before being discharged in 1977.
After leaving the service, he decided that he wanted to become a doctor, and made the decision to move overseas to Africa, where he began attending numerous schools and working for organizations to bolster his resume. He would grow quite an impressive academic resume, before moving back to the U.S. in the early 1990's, where he began working for the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases - which is a mouthful, more commonly known by its abbreviation, USAMRIID.
This facility, which is located at Fort Detrick - in Maryland - is the only Department of Defense laboratory equipped to study highly hazardous viruses at Biosafety Level 4 within positive pressure personnel suits. Biosafety Level 4 is the highest level of viruses, and includes such infectious agents as small pox, Lassa Fever, Ebola, and others like them.
Dr. Steven Hatfill, who worked as a physician, virologist, biological weapons expert, and overall bio-defense researcher, had been responsible for commissioning a 1999 report, which sought to explore the possibilities of a terrorist anthrax mail attack. This report was later seen as a "blueprint" for the 2001 anthrax attacks, and Dr. Hatfill's name within is what intrigued investigators the most.
Dr. Hatfill had initially come to the attention of investigators when a letter was mailed to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, from the country of Malaysia. Initial reports indicated that the letter tested positive for anthrax, but this would be proven wrong in the following days. However, Dr. Hatfill - whose girlfriend at the time was Malaysian - popped up as an intriguing candidate.
When investigators dug into Dr. Hatfill as a person-of-interest, they discovered that he had taken the anthrax antibiotic Cipro in 2001, shortly before the letters were mailed out. It would later be revealed that he had been prescribed Cipro from his doctor after an unrelated infection, but that did not deter suspicions.
Hatfill's name was brought up in the spring of 2002 as a suspect, and his house was then searched on June 25th. Dr. Hatfill himself agreed to the search, but reports of the search were then leaked to the media, along with his identity.
The FBI began pursuing Dr. Steven Hatfill with every resource at their disposal. His life was lived under the threat of a microscope for the foreseeable future, with the FBI maintaining constant surveillance over a period of years. His phones were tapped, and agents began literally following him around-the-clock.
As a result of his name being leaked to the press as a potential suspect in the anthrax attacks, his reputation was ruined. Shortly thereafter, he lost his security clearance to work at Fort Detrick, and soon thereafter, lost his job as an instructor at Louisiana State University.
His reputation was ruined, and he could not gain employment anywhere.
Despite the damage done to his name and reputation, there was very little reprieve for Dr. Steven Hatfill. He maintained his innocence, but his life changed in August of 2002.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, speaking to the press, announced that Dr. Steven Hatfill was being pursued as a "person of interest" in the investigation into the anthrax outbreak from the year before, officially putting him in the sights of the media. He was now a named suspect in the deadliest bio-weapon attack in American history, which had taken place in the immediate aftermath of September 11.
The next week, outside of his lawyer's office, Dr. Steven Hatfill plead with the media to treat him fairly. He stated, emphatically:
"I am not the anthrax killer."
His lawyer, Victor M. Glasberg, made a similar assertion moments later:
"Steve's life has been devastated by a drumbeat of innuendo, implication, and speculation. We have a frightening public attack on an individual who, guilty or not, should not be exposed to this type of public opprobrium based on speculation."
In October of 2002 - a year after the first victim, Robert Stevens, had been killed - a series of articles came out which seemed to refute the FBI's position that the anthrax attacks had been perpetrated by a "lone wolf."
Richard O. Spertzel, a microbiologist who had worked as the chief biological inspector for a UN Special Commission, stated about the fine-grade anthrax found in the letters addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy:
"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."
This seemed to go against the notion that the anthrax found in the letters had been made by a "lone wolf" in an amateurish basement laboratory. Spertzel, an expert who had worked as an expert in biological warfare for years beforehand, seemed to assert that it would take a large-scale effort to produce anthrax of such a high quality. It was very likely that whoever made it was part of a well-connected organization, and they were likely not acting alone.
It was revealed that the anthrax that had been sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy was fifty times finer than anything produced by the now-defunct US bio-weapons program, and at least ten times finger than the highest-grade Soviet Union-produced anthrax.
Steven A. Lancos, the executive vice president of a spray dryer company named Niro, Inc., knew exactly the equipment that would be needed to produce a biochemical of this scale. After all, his company made equipment for that purpose. He said:
"Just collecting this stuff is a trick. Even on a small scale, you still need containment. If you're going to do it right, it could cost millions of dollars."
Over the next couple of years, speculation continued to follow the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, and it began to enter the pantheon of unsolved cases plaguing the world.
Dr. Steven Hatfill remained publicly ostracized, and the US Government had not backpedaled on Attorney General Ashcroft's comments from August of 2002. As far as anyone knew, Dr. Hatfill was still their lone, primary person-of-interest.
In May of 2003, in an incident that is almost comical, Dr. Hatfill approached a parked car which he believed had been following him for some time. He believed that the driver of the car had been recording him, and he approached the vehicle with a camera of his own. He wanted to take a picture and publish it online for the world to see. But as he approached the car, the vehicle sped off, and inadvertently ran over his right foot.
Police were called to the scene, and Dr. Hatfill gave them a statement of what had happened. The driver was later identified as an FBI agent who had been following him, but Dr. Hatfill was issued a citation for "walking to create a hazard," and fined a grand total of $5.
Dr. Hatfill says that this was just one incident of the constant harassment that plagued him during the time period, and would come up again in the coming years.
In December of 2003 - two years after the original anthrax scare - the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, DC finally reopened. It had taken two years of cleanup to get the facility back into order, and the renovation had cost upwards of $130 million.
On July 13th, 2004, Dr. Steven Hatfill filed lawsuits against the Justice Department and the New York Times, accusing both of defamation. He also accused the Justice Department of leaking information about him to the press, which was an alleged violation of the federal Privacy Act. Because lawsuits like that take some time to come to fruition, it would be years before Dr. Hatfill or the Justice Department would received any comeuppance.
On March 14th, 2005, the Trenton P&DC - located in Hamilton, New Jersey - finally reopened after years of cleanup and decontamination. This is the facility where it was believed that all of the anthrax letters had been mailed out from, so it required the most extensive cleanup out of all of the locations.
On January 12th, 2007, a federal judge dismissed Dr. Steven Hatfill's lawsuit against the New York Times. In his ruling, he said that Hatfill had become a limited purpose public figure, so the New York Times was well within their rights to publish stories about him, based on information received from anonymous sources. However, that did not clear the Justice Department, who were still in jeopardy of losing millions unless they could build some case against Hatfill, and fast.
However, on June 27th, 2008 - following an extensive legal process - Dr. Steven Hatfill received a $4.6 million settlement in his lawsuit against the United States Government. He was eventually given an annuity from the FBI which was ultimately worth $5.8 million dollars, when paid out over twenty years.
For Dr. Steven Hatfill and his lawyers, this was a huge victory.
Mark Grannis, one of his lawyers, stated:
"The good news is that we still live in a country where a guy who's been horribly abused can go to a judge and say, 'I need your help,' and maybe it takes a while, but he gets justice."
However, in direct contrast with the glee experienced by now-vindicated Dr. Hatfill and his legal team, politicans on Capitol Hill were absolutely livid.
Representative Rush Holt stated:
"As today's settlement announcement confirms, this case was botched from the very beginning. The FBI did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous theory of the case that has led to this very expensive dead end."
Senator Chuck Grassley also stated:
"We've had a seven-year investigation and $15 million spent on it and one of the 'people of interest' bought off for $5.8 million over what was obviously an FBI screw-up. We need answers."
True-to-form, the FBI was ready to provide answers. Just about a month later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation would announce that they had solved the case... but it wasn't what anybody was expecting.
Dr. Bruce Ivins was a 62-year old scientist in the summer of 2008, who had long been married to his wife, Diane. Together, they had two children, and on the outside, things seemed to be going all right.
Bruce had graduated with honors from the University of Cincinnati, with a degree in microbiology. He then received advanced degrees in microbiology from the same school, including an M.S. and a Ph.D.
Dr. Ivins started off his career by conducting extensive research into Legionella - also known as Legionnaire's Disease - and cholera. In 1979, following a Soviet outbreak of anthrax which killed 105 people, he decided to change his primary focus to that destructive infection.
For several years, he had lived in the area of Frederick, Maryland, and he worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. He was a civilian contractor, who ended up working at the USAMRIID for over eighteen years. During his time there, he had become well-respected and well-regarded for his work in the field, which included extensive research in the field of anthrax treatments.
So well-versed was Dr. Ivins in the field of anthrax, that he had co-developed two patents for anthrax vaccine technology, which were owned by the U.S. Army. He also co-wrote a number of anthrax studies, including a July 2008 article in the peer journal "Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy," which focused on pulmonary anthrax treatments.
When the anthrax letters had been discovered in October of 2001, Dr. Ivins was part of the team that helped the FBI analyze the anthrax samples found. It was Dr. Ivins that helped orchestrate some of the most effective tools for treatment the many victims, including a vaccine that he had been struggling to bring forward for years prior.
In 2003, Dr. Ivins was awarded the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service medal, which is the highest honor that a civilian can be given by the Department of Defense. This was awarded because of Dr. Ivins work in the aftermath of the anthrax scare, and his deft work at helping bring it to a close.
On the surface, all seemed to be well. But in the background of Dr. Bruce Ivins' life, there was trouble brewing. And with the recent settlement awarded to one of Dr. Ivins former colleagues - Dr. Steven Hatfill - he found himself under an increasing amount of stress...
Just months after the anthrax outbreak, in early 2002, a coworker told Dr. Ivins that she was worried her work-space had become exposed to anthrax. Dr. Ivins helped the colleague decontaminate her work space, but did not notify any of his superior of the potential outbreak - a fact that would work against him in the years to come.
He later admitted to Army officials that he had violated protocol, and accepted blame.
In 2005, genetic research was conducted on the anthrax found in the letters addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy. Investigators were trying to figure out where the anthrax had come from, and if they could match it to any of the samples found within a government laboratory.
This genetic research, performed in March of 2005, seemed to connect the anthrax attacks to a specific flask of anthrax dispersed to Dr. Bruce Ivins - and his lab - in 1997. The flask, labelled "RMR-1029," was what investigators and public officials believed was the origin for the sample that ultimately found its way into the murderous letters of 2001. They believed that whoever created the fine, graded powder version of anthrax, had used RMR-1029 as their original building block.
However, it is worth noting that since the flask was dispersed in 1997, over a hundred people had access to that specific flask of anthrax. And the lab that Dr. Ivins worked for had sent samples to other labs throughout the nation, in an effort to create effective treatments, so this was hardly a smoking gun piece of evidence.
On March 31st, 2005, Dr. Ivins was interviewed by the FBI, who had begun to move on from Dr. Steven Hatfill as their primary suspect at this point in time. Dr. Ivins was questioned about his usage of RMR-1029, the anthrax production at the lab he worked at, and personal emails he had sent to friends and family in the years prior.
You see, while Dr. Ivins was well-regarded around his workplace, he had a few personal problems. These emails, which detailed his mental and emotional issues - including his recent diagnosis for paranoid personality disorder - seemed to point to a troubled man, who had secrets of his own.
According to electronic records obtained by the FBI, Dr. Ivins had spent an unusual amount of time at the lab he worked-at; in particular, he had stayed later-than-usual on several nights before the anthrax samples were mailed out to the news organizations and to Senators Daschle and Leahy. Because of this, he was now on the verge of becoming the FBI's primary suspect, as he could not convincingly explain these late nights in the lab to the investigators questioning him.
One investigator later stated:
"[Dr. Ivins] could provide no legitimate reason for the extended hours, other than 'home was not good' and he went there 'to escape' from his life at home."
This seemed to be the tipping point for Dr. Bruce Ivins. From here on out, after being questioned by the FBI, his mental state began to deteriorate significantly.
In 2006, the investigation into the anthrax attacks from five years prior was changed drastically, when new lead investigators took over the case and oversaw a change in the investigation's tactics and perspectives.
Having recently been interviewed by the FBI - where they told him he was becoming a primary suspect - Dr. Ivins began to develop a quickly-deteriorating mental state. He was soon treated for clinical depression, and had his access to the lab he worked at decreased significantly.
At around this time, he stated in an email to a friend of his:
"Up until that time I felt that I had been helping officials with the anthrax letters case, providing as much as I could that I thought was relevant. Then at the end of March I had an interrogation from two people who said I was suspicious... and asked me lots more accusatory questions. I was crushed and had to be taken out of the biocontainment suites for several months."
Dr. Ivins was eventually able to return to his work, with his security clearance intact, but the cloud of a large-scale FBI investigation never left his peripherals.
In November of 2007, Dr. Ivins was interviewed again by FBI officials. This time, he was interviewed at work; he was then told that the FBI was conducting a search of his home as they spoke. He began to grow nervous, admitting that he did things "a middle age man should not do."
When investigators pressed him on this, Dr. Ivins admitted to engaging in weird activity, such as cross-dressing. However, when pressed even further, he admitted to all kinds of weird behavior.
As a youngster in college, he had apparently been rejected by a member of a National Sorority named Kappa Kappa Gamma. In the decades since, he had harbored a grudge against that woman and the sorority. He admitted to spray-painting on KKG properties, as well as continuously editing content on the KKG Wikipedia page, where he added inflammatory comments about members and their practices.
In the most bizarre confession, he even admitted to once breaking into a KKG sorority in his youth, where he stole a book of "rituals," which he had then mailed to various entities, in an effort to embarrass and ridicule the sorority.
Investigators noted that there was a Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority building nearby where the anthrax letters had been mailed out - in Princeton, New Jersey - but they could find no proof that Dr. Ivins had ever been there.
In this interview with FBI investigators, Dr. Ivins also apparently admitted to sending letters and packages from remote locations with assumed names and aliases. He said he did this because he was into all kinds of obscure behavior, and like to receive bondage magazines and such, and he felt embarrassed admitting it to investigators, let alone having it be a part of his public persona.
Dr. Ivins later told a friend, about the day in which his house was ransacked by FBI officials as federal investigators probed his deepest, darkest secrets:
"It was the worst day of my life."
Following this interview, what was left of Dr. Ivins sanity was reaching its breaking point. Friends reported that he was drinking entire bottles of vodka at a time, often times mixed with sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications.
He continued to share emails with friends and associates, in which he described his deteriorating mental state. Eventually, he began expressing suicidal thoughts in the first half of 2008, which led to the events of March 19th.
On March 19th, 2008, Dr. Ivins was found unconscious at his home. Police responded to the scene, and Dr. Ivins was rushed to the hospital.
It appeared like Dr. Ivins had nearly overdosed, but his attempt was quickly detered by paramedics and doctors. He was soon released, and assigned a therapist, named Jean Duley.
Duley would play a complicated role in Dr. Ivins' life over the next couple of months, as she was a substance abuse therapist who had obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology just months before beginning her work with Dr. Ivins. Many question whether she had the necessary expertise to take on a case like Dr. Ivins at the time, but she was partially responsible for helping keep Dr. Ivins on the straight-and-narrow. She was there to monitor his group therapy sessions, and saw him biweekly for individual substance abuse therapy sessions.
A look at Jean Duley's backstory reveals a road full of twists and turns, as she admits to spending a brief period of time in a biker gang, and had experimented with all kind of illegal drugs and narcotics in her past. In fact, just before beginning her work with Dr. Ivins, she had pleaded guilty to a charge of felony DUI.
After a short period of time, Jean Duley - Dr. Ivins' substance abuse therapist - recommended that he be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. He went without a struggle when detained by police, but - upon his release - felt betrayed and hurt. He contacted Jean Duley, giving her a piece of his mind in a series of phone calls, in which serious anger was displayed.
On July 9th, Jean Duley told a judge that Bruce Ivins had been making threats against co-workers, and was able to get his involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital yet again. Again, he went willingly, disputing the accusations levied against him, which seemed to go against what everyone knew of him.
It was right after this that Jean Duley, his therapist, then requested a restraining order against Dr. Ivins, claiming that he had been making threats of violence against her and others, and that he had been harassing and stalking her.
The Frederick News Post, Dr. Ivins' local paper, filed a Freedom of Information Act to request the records of the phone calls in which Jean Duley alleges Dr. Ivins made threats against her. They found no mention of any threat, just anger and betrayal.
Nonetheless, a judge issued a restraining order on July 24th, 2008. In a hearing with the judge, Jean Duley had stated that Dr. Bruce Ivins was a "sociopathic, homicidal killer."
It is worth noting that, at this point in their lives, Dr. Bruce Ivins had a spotless record. He had no crimes or convictions in his name, and not even as much as a misdemeanor in the state of Maryland, where he had lived for over twenty years. Meanwhile, Jean Duley had a long history of crimes and misdemeanors, including a history of drug use that dated back to the age of ten.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention something: when the restraining order was issued - on July 24th - it became public knowledge that Jean Duley, Dr. Ivins' therapist, was now cooperating with the FBI in their investigation against him. Many have questioned the moral ramifications of a therapist agreeing to cooperate as a witness against their own patient, but it was now public record.
This restraining order highlighted to the entire world that Dr. Bruce Ivins was now the prime suspect in the federal investigation which had since been named "Amerithrax."
Just a few days later - on July 27th, 2009 - Dr. Bruce Ivins was found unconscious at his home in Frederick, Maryland. The local fire department responded, and rushed him to the nearby Frederick Memorial Hospital.
His wife, Diane, found a note on his bedside table, which read:
"I have a terrible headache. I'm going to take some Tylenol and sleep in tomorrow.
A short, half-finished sentence is then scrippled out, but the bottom of the note read:
"Please let me sleep. Please."
It appeared like Dr. Bruce Ivins had intentionally tried to overdose with a large number of prescription drugs, including Tylenol with codeine in it.
Over the next two days, he woke up from his medical coma only once, barely conscious. He was asked if he had attempted suicide, and he could only briefly mutter "Yes" while nodding his head approvingly.
The rampant drug and alcohol use had destroyed his liver, and his wife, Diane, was given the opportunity to request a liver transplant. Knowing that Bruce wouldn't want that, she refused, and Bruce was eventually taken off of life support on July 29th, 2008.
An autopsy was not performed, as the state medical examiner didn't think it was necessary.
On August 6th, 2008 - a little over a week after the death of Dr. Bruce Ivins - a press conference was prepared.
Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney for the District Of Columbia, made the public announcement that the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attack - given the name "Amerithrax" in its FBI case file - had been solved.
Taylor alleged that Dr. Bruce Ivins had been the lone perpetrator behind the attacks. He laid out the case against Dr. Ivins as the sole culprit, and including hundreds of pages of applications for search warrants, which were the building blocks of their case.
"... based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."
Taylor went on to call Dr. Ivins "a troubled individual" who had carried out "the worst act of bioterrorism in U.S. history."
Taylor said that Ivins had submitted false evidence while allegedly aiding the FBI investigation, including submitted false samples of anthrax samples in his custody.
Taylor said that Dr. Ivins had been attempting to frame his co-workers, by admitting that he was not the only one with access to the RMR-1029 flask, and submitting tips to the FBI about suspicious activity by his coworkers.
Taylor alleged that Ivins had immunized himself against anthrax in September of 2001; but then again, so had Dr. Hatfill, as well as multiple government officials in the wake of September 11th.
Taylor then said that the language used in the letters addressed to the senators and the news organizations was similar to language Dr. Ivins had used in his emails, and that he might have tried to hide a hidden code to his colleagues in the anthrax-laced letters.
The motivation, according to US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, was Dr. Ivins had spent years of his life trying to push an effective anthrax vaccine that he had developed, which was being pulled from the market. It was alleged that Dr. Ivins had orchestrated the letter campaign in an effort to drum up support for his cure, and push it back into popularity.
This case hinged on a couple of important pieces of information: it relied on Dr. Ivins A.) being capable of producing high-quality anthrax in his spare time, and B.) mailing out the letters from specific places at specific times.
Unfortunately, almost all of the evidence presented by Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney for Washington, DC, seemed to be circumstantial. Bioterror experts publicly stated that nothing in this statement emerged as a conclusive piece of evidence, and the FBI would have to release a more smoking gun in their official report.
Paul F. Kemp, a lawyer for Dr. Ivins', stated about the case laid forward by US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor:
"It was an explanation of why Bruce Ivins was a suspect. But there's a total absence of proof that he committed the crime."
Word of this reached the coworkers and friends of Dr. Ivins, who had memorialized and buried the man just that morning - August 6th.
Almost all of his colleagues doubted the Justice Department's case against Dr. Bruce Ivins from the get-go, noting that the timing of this announcement came hot on the heels of Dr. Ivins and the recent $5 million payout to Dr. Steven Hatfill.
Doubters publicly noted that the most definitive piece of evidence against Dr. Ivins - the genetic link between the anthrax found in the letters and the sample he worked with, RMR-1029 - was less than a slam dunk. Over a hundred people had access to that flask at any given moment, without mentioning the many other people that had been given samples of it over the years to develop vaccinations and antibiotics.
Many of the colleagues of Dr. Ivins, who had worked with him in the months and years before and after the anthrax scare, found it impossible for him to be the perpetrator. Namely, because of his nature, but also because of the laboratory itself. No anthrax had been found in Dr. Ivins' home or on any of his belongings, and every one of his coworkers stated that it would be impossible for someone to create a fine-grade powder version of anthrax in their lab without being noticed.
Meryl Nass, an expert in biological warfare and anthrax, stated:
"No matter how good the microbial forensics may be, they can only, at best, link the anthrax to a particular strain and lab. They cannot link to any individual."
In fact, many of the people that worked with and knew Dr. Ivins believed that the FBI had, in essence, driven him to suicide. They believe that federal investigators, who had been hounding him for years at this point, had pounced on the opportunity of his death to convict him in the court of public opinion, and close the case without a trial.
In the months before his death, Dr. Ivins - who might have just been suffering from symptoms of his paranoid personality disorder - told friends that his own son was offered $2.5 million to rat him out. He also said that his daughter was harassed by FBI agents, and was shown pictures of dead anthrax victims in an effort to flip her.
For what it's worth, Senators and Representatives, who had been overseeing the FBI's investigation into the Amerithrax case via various committees, had never once heard the name Bruce Ivins surfaced. But they remained hopeful that the eventual FBI report would convincingly argue their case, and include much more scientific-based evidence against Dr. Ivins.
Jonathan B. Tucker, another expert in biological warfare, said that the documents presented by US Attorney Taylor contained "a number of gaps and inferences," and critiqued the FBI for not having some simple procedures like handwriting analysis performed.
"It's not an open and shut case. There are some pieces of evidence that are much more compelling than others, and a number of loose ends that haven't been tied."
In the wake of this announcement, Dr. Steven Hatfill was officialy exonerated.
The initial suspect in the Amerithrax case file, the FBI had spent over five years exploring Dr. Hatfill as their primary suspect, leaking his name and identity to the press in an effort to validate the time spent.
In a letter received by Dr. Hatfill's lawyers, US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor wrote:
"... we have concluded, based on laboratory access records, witness accounts and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings."
David Freed, a journalist, wrote about this ordeal in the aftermath of Hatfill's vindication:
"[Hatfill] provides a cautionary tale about how federal authorities, fueled by the general panic over terrorism, embraced conjecture and coincidence as evidence, and blindly pursued one suspect while the real anthrax killer roamed free for more than six years. Hatfill's experience is also the wrenching saga of how an American citizen who saw himself as a patriot came to be vilified and presumed guilty, as his country turned against him."
In addition to the $5+ million settlement, Dr. Hatfill has resumed his work in the field of medicine, working for George Washington University Medical Center as an independent research and an adjunct assistant professor.
On September 17th, 2008, a month after making the announcement that investigators had circled in on Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attack, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI was going to be seeking an independent review of the scientific evidence:
"... because of the importance of the science to this particular case and perhaps cases in the future, we have initiated discussions with the National Academy Of Sciences."
Senator Patrick Leahy, who was actually one of the targets of the original 2001 letters and sat on the Judiciary Committee, openly disputed the FBI's findings.
"If [Dr. Ivins] is the one who sent the letter, I do not believe in any way, shape, or manner that he is the only person involved in this attack on Congress and the American people. I believe there are others involved, either as accessories before or accessories after the fact. I believe there are others who can be charged with murder."
Senator Chuck Grassley, who had long been a critic of the FBI's handling of the anthrax investigation, didn't think that a review of the scientific process was all that was needed:
"[The National Academy Of Sciences] would only be reviewing the science and not the detective work. I believe we need an independent review of both.
"There are many unanswered questions the FBI must address before the public can have confidence in the outcome of this case."
Senator Arlen Specter echoed the complaints of the other senators, who doubted that the FBI had close to the airtight case that they had hinted at a month beforehand. Senator Specter, who had once served as a federal prosecutor and even assisted in the Warren Commission - which investigated the JFK assassination, criticized Mueller for not releasing more information about the case. He even stated his disbelief that Dr. Ivins was solely responsible for the crimes.
"I've looked over a good bit of the evidence on the anthrax case just to contrast prosecutor's opinions. And I have grave doubts about sufficiency of evidence for proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Following this hearing, the case was then dropped into the hands of the National Academy of Sciences: an independent, impartial collection of scientists who serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation." When they are called upon, in matters such as this, they are viewed as the utmost experts in their field.
Needless to say, their opinion means a lot. And now the FBI was turning to them to analyze the scientific components of their case, and rule whether the science was definitive enough to name Dr. Bruce Ivins the Anthrax Killer.
Before the National Academy Of Sciences could deliver their findings, the Department of Justice released a 96-page report, which formally concluded their investigation.
The report, which was prepared by the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service, and Department Of Justice officials, made it abundantly clear that they were naming Dr. Bruce Ivins the sole culprit of the 2001 attacks.
An excerpt from the report read:
"... it is clear that by the summer of 2001, Dr. Ivins was under an extraordinary amount of stress in his professional life. The anthrax vaccine research program that Dr. Ivins had invested essentially his entire career of more than 20 years was in jeopardy of failure... Under extreme pressure from so many different assaults on his career and life's work, Dr. Ivins had a motive to commit the crime.
"Evidence developed from [the] investigation established that Dr. Ivins, alone, mailed the anthrax letters."
The release of this report was deemed as callous and premature by many in the field of biological research, especially since the National Academy Of Sciences had yet to announce their findings of the FBI's scientific research. Many felt that the report glossed over many of the gaps in the investigation, and wasn't sufficient in proving Dr. Ivins guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A colleague of Dr. Ivins - named Henry S. Heine - defended his former coworker against the accustation levied against him postmortem.
In April of 2010, Dr. Heine - who held a Ph.D. in microbiology - spoke publicly about the testimony he had given to the National Academy of Sciences, who were still investigating the FBI's science. When asked if there was any chance that Dr. Ivins had carried out the attack, he responded definitively:
Dr. Heine, who was Dr. Ivins supervisor at the facility they worked at in Fort Detrick, said that it was "impossible" for Bruce Ivins to create the amount of anthrax needed to mail out the multiple letters. Even if he had been able to do it, it would have been impossible to do it in such a short amount of time, and without getting noticed by anyone.
Dr. Heine explained that the FBI had pointed out the amount of overtime that Dr. Bruce Ivins had logged in the days and weeks before the anthrax letters were mailed out. He explained that in order for Dr. Ivins to make the amount of anthrax needed to mail out the letters - which he estimated to be ten trillion spores of powderized anthrax - it would have taken him at least a year, which would have been noticed by someone.
Dr. Heine also explained that the area in which Dr. Ivins worked, the B3 suite that he supervised, was insufficient to create a large amount of anthrax without significant exposure. At the very least:
"You'd have had dead animals or dead people.
"When you dry [anthrax] spores, they fly everywhere and you can't see 'em. Had Bruce made it during all those late nights in the hot suite, we would've been his first victims."
Dr. Henry S. Heine also described the environment in the lab in the period around Bruce Ivins' suicide, saying that right after his death, coworkers of theirs had made comments alleging that the FBI was going to try and pin it on him. Sure enough, just days later, they brought forward a convincing argument in favor of Dr. Ivins guilt - a man who could no longer defend himself.
"If Bruce did it, we would've turned him in for a million dollars in a heartbeat. Seriously, though, reward or no reward, we would've stopped him because that would've been the right thing to do."
Dr. Heine, who stood up for Dr. Ivins not as a friend, but a colleague, said he had been given no reason to believe that the other microbiologist had committed the crimes.
"Whoever did this is still running around out there. I truly believe that."
On February 15th, 2011 - nearly a decade after the original anthrax scare - the National Academy Of Sciences released their review of the science used in the FBI's investigation.
The NAS, an independent collection of scientists, concluded that the scientific evidence was consistent with Dr. Bruce Ivins having been the perpetrator... however, they did state that thinking was based off of the broad nature of the FBI's scientific analysis. It did not exonerate Dr. Ivins... but it didn't exactly serve as the smoking gun that federal investigators had hoped for.
The National Academy Of Sciences were not interested in ruling on the case as a judge. They were simply an impartial arbiter of the scientific aspects, and did not assume either guilt or innocence.
With that being said, the report from the National Academy Of Sciences announced that the scientific components of the FBI's investigation were less than conclusive.
"A review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's scientific work... concludes that the bureau overstated the strength of genetic analysis linking the mailed anthrax to a supply kept by Bruce E. Ivins."
This report cast serious doubt on the claims made by the FBI, as the most definitive piece of evidence was the link between the anthrax found in the letters to the sample kept close to Dr. Ivins: the flask labelled "RMR-1029."
The researchers assembled for the National Academy Of Sciences ruled that it wasn't anywhere close to being a smoking gun. They noted similarities between the two samples, but also speculated that "parallel evolution" could explain many of the similarities between the two. As in, it was possible that the anthrax in the letters was derived from a similar batch of anthrax, which just happened to evolve in a similar state.
Without this one basic component of the case - which had originally linked the anthrax to the lab used by Bruce Ivins - the FBI's case had very little merit. It had accumulated a lot of circumstantial evidence, which definitely painted Ivins in a bad light - and pointed to a man with a lot of emotional and mental issues - but it was nowhere near being a done deal.
Despite this finding, the FBI reiterated their statement from the year prior. They had officially concluded their investigation, and were comfortable naming Dr. Bruce Ivins the sole perpetrator.
Months later, in July of 2011, Patricia Worsham - the chief of the Bacteriology Division at the Army laboratory that Dr. Ivins had once worked at - openly admitted that the facility he worked within lacked the necessary equipment to create anthrax.
The lab that he had worked in, dubbed the "hot suite," didn't have the necessary equipment back in 2001 to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder which was then mailed out. One particular piece of equipment, which was the size of a refrigerator, was not in containment, where he would have used it to isolate the anthrax samples.
"If someone had used that to dry down that preparation, I would have expected that area to be very, very contaminated, and we had non-immunized personnel in that area, and I would have expected some of them to become ill."
Dr. Worsham stated that, based on the requirements needed for such a large-scale operation, that it would have been impossible for Dr. Ivins to accomplish this by himself. At least, not without exposing himself and others to a large amount of anthrax spores.
This was another person with a Ph.D., who was familiar with the process of creating synthetic anthrax - and worked in the same facility - publicly doubted the story put together by the FBI. Dr. Worsham was not only another person who believed it unlikely that Dr. Ivins had been the sole culprit of the anthrax attacks, but she flat-out found it to be impossible.
2011 saw the continuation of another longstanding lawsuit pertaining to the 2001 anthrax attacks.
In 2003, the widow of the Robert Stevens - the first victim - filed a lawsuit against the United States government. Maureen Stevens claimed that the U.S. was negligent in failing to stop an employee of the Army Infectious Disease lab from creating weapons-grade anthrax, and waging a month-long campaign of terror on the populace, ultimately killing five and infected seventeen others.
Maureen Stevens sought $50 million in damages, which would have been disastrous for the FBI's already damaged integrity over this investigation.
The lawsuit would be curtailed over the years, as the investigation continued. At times, when it appeared to be moving forward, it eventually stalled due to active criminal investigations; which, as we now know, came to an end in 2010.
The trial was then set for early 2012, and the U.S. Government continued to contend that there was no proof that its actions - or lack of any safety precautions - directly caused the death of Robert Stevens or the others.
In October of 2011, the U.S. Government decided to settle with Maureen Stevens, for a total of $2.5 million.
Maureen's lawyer had much to say, but the main quote she wanted to get out there, on behalf of her husband Robert, was:
"Justice has been served."
Over the next few years, members of Congress tried to push for an independent review of the Amerithrax investigation, in order to properly vet the findings of the Justice Department and the FBI.
In December of 2014, an independent report was published by the Government Accountability Office. This report, totalling in at 77 pages, stated that the FBI had still not definitively proved that the anthrax in the letters came from the flask labelled "RMR-1029"; as such, the FBI had still not yet produced a definitive piece of evidence linking Dr. Bruce Ivins to the crimes.
Representative Rush Holt, who had long been pressing for an independent review of the case, stated about this report:
"... the GAO report confirms what I have often said: that the FBI's definitive conclusions about the accuracy of their scientific findings in the Amerithrax case are not, in fact, definitive.
"... the United States needs a comprehensive, independent review of the Amerithrax investigation to ensure we have learned the lessons from this bio attack."
Professor Martin Hugh-Jones, a Louisiana State University professor who spoke early on in the anthrax investigation, was asked for comment about the recent findings. He said:
"I cannot agree more with the statement that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion on where the anthrax came from based on the scientific evidence the FBI presented.
"Making a powder of that level could never be done in 20 days, even by someone who knew what they were doing."
In April of 2015 - fourteen years removed from the Amerithrax scare - an ex-FBI official came forward to announce that he doubted the validity of the FBI's investigation into Dr. Bruce Ivins.
Richard L. Lambert was a 24-year veteran of the FBI, who had actually overseen the Amerithrax investigation for the Bureau between 2002 and 2006. It was in this month, April, that Lambert filed a lawsuit in the state of Tennessee against the FBI, accusing them of all kinds of negligence and poor behavior.
His lawsuit stemmed from an issue with the FBI's terms of separation, which ultimately led to him being let go from a senior counterintelligence position at the Energy Department, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. But in the lawsuit, he specifically accused the Bureau of trying "to railroad the prosecution of Ivins," and - following his suicide - to create "an elaborate perception management campaign" which insinuated his guilt.
As I said just a moment ago, Richard Lambert was the FBI investigator who was in charge of the Amerithrax investigation between 2002 and 2006. This is when the Bureau had been obsessed with Dr. Steven Hatfill as their primary suspect, and had allegedly caught on to Dr. Ivins as a suspect.
Lambert believed that Dr. Ivins might have been guilty, but that there was definitely not enough evidence to convict him in a court of law. He claimed that the FBI had gathered "a staggering amount of exculpatory evidence," which they chose to keep it all secret.
Following the filing of this lawsuit, Lambert claimed that the FBI's investigation into the anthrax scare was botched from the get-go.
"This case was hailed at the time as the most important case in the history of the FBI. But it was difficult for me to get experienced investigators assigned to it."
Lambert claims that 12 out of the 20 agents assigned to the case, during his handling of the investigation, had no prior investigative experience. It was a team composed of, primarily, rookies, who shouldn't have been near a case of that size or scope. He also alleged that senior bureau microbiologists were not made available, and the overactive micromanagement of the case made it near-impossible for investigators to simple shares notes and theories with other investigators, due to the very nature of the information.
Lambert compiled all of this issues into a memo, which he then sent to then-Deputy Director of the FBI, John Pistole. His recommendation went unfounded, but the memo surfaced a short time later, when "60 Minutes" producers found it in a Freedom-Of-Information-Act request, and brought it up on their broadcast. This infuriated leaders in the FBI, who removed Lambert from his command, and eventually led to him leaving the Department.
After leaving the FBI, he had then joined the Energy Department, as a counterintelligence agent. But, he claims, resentment among the FBI inspired them to find a clause in his employment contract, which meant he could not professionally associate with ex-colleagues for one year after leaving the FBI. Hence, him losing his job at the Energy Department and now filing suit against the Bureau.
Lambert emphatically believed that the FBI's case against Dr. Bruce Ivins did not have enough legs to stand on its own. He believed that if charges had ever been filed, it likely would not have gone to trial.
"I absolutely do not think they could have proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Lambert's lawsuit against the FBI was dismissed in January of 2017, but the questions he raised continue to bring up doubts against the Justice Department's case.
The Amerithrax investigation still stands as a giant inconcluded mess of a case, with information pointing in a dozen different directions.
It doesn't matter whether or not you believe in the validity of the evidence presented against Dr. Bruce Ivins, because he was never able to sit in a courtroom and defend himself. He was never able to be found guilty, which is why I consider this matter unresolved.
If the guilt points in his direction, we still don't understand his motivations or what he hoped to accomplish. But if he wasn't responsible... well, then, the responsible parties are still out there.
The federal investigation into Amerithrax, which lasted for over six years, conducted over 9,000 interviews, filed over 6,000 subpoenas, and examined tens of thousands of pieces of equipment in their effort to determine who had made the anthrax, where it had been made, and where it was shipped.
The cost to decontaminate the affected areas exceeded $1 billion, and is seen as one of the largest bio-weapon cases of all-time. In America, it remains the deadliest.
Many believe that Amerithrax was as profound an event in America as the 9/11 tragedy that preceded it. It led to extensive overhauls in investigative procedures, biological testing, and one of the bedrocks of our nation: the mail delivery process. Many have compared the Amerithrax case to that of the Unabomber, but the overall impact on lives - and the overall cost - overshadows Ted Kazynsky.
It is a common thought in many political circles that, without the 2001 anthrax attacks, the public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq - and the following war - would not have been as high. From a purely geopolitical standpoint, the anthrax attack looms large in the pantheon of American 'what-if's.'
Perhaps the biggest impact on our everyday lives is that the investment in America's bio-lab testing has increased from the pre-Amerithrax $4 million, to the more current estimate of $15 billion.
But regardless of financial figures, there are a handful of numbers that I try to keep in-mind whenever I think of Amerithrax. The first is an impossible-to-know variable: the amount of people exposed to anthrax, who required antibiotic treatment. Tens of thousands took antibiotics in the weeks and months following the anthrax attacks, fearing the worst.
Thirty-one people tested positive for anthrax exposure, and had pray for the best.
An additional seventeen were infected with anthrax, and had to put their lives in the hands of modern science. They lived with the threat of death hanging over them for weeks, if not months.
And, finally, we have the most tragic number: five. The five lives lost in America's worst bio-weapon attack. They are:
63-year old Robert Stevens, who lived in Lantana, Florida, and worked as a photo editor for American Media, Inc.
55-year old Thomas Morris, Jr., who lived in Washington, DC and worked at a Brentwood mailing facility.
47-year old Joseph Curseen, Jr., who lived in Prince George's County, Maryland, and worked in the same Brentwood facility.
61-year old Kathy Nguyen, a woman that lived by herself in New York City and worked at the Manhattan Eye, Ear And Throat Hospital.
And 94-year old Ottilie Lundgren, a widow that lived in Oxford, Connecticut, and enjoyed reading mystery novels.
The stories of these five victims - as well as a countless number of lives touched by the case dubbed "Amerithrax" by the FBI - remain unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Originally published on June 24th, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves