Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg,
Federation of American Scientists
LA Times Op-Ed, 22 September, 2002
Letter and Victim Chronology, Updated 29 August, 2002
Statement by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, 11 August 2002
Commentary 5 February 2002: Is the FBI Dragging Its Feet?
Letter Chronology, Updated 31 January 2002
Notes on the Letters, 31 January 2002
Analysis of the Attacks, 17-31 January 2002
Appendix: Laboratories That Have Worked with the Ames Strain of Anthrax
FBI Letter to ASM Members, 29 January 02
White House Press Briefing, 25 February 02
Anthrax Attacks Pushed Open an Ominous Door
By Barbara Hatch Rosenberg
22 September, 2002
PURCHASE, N.Y. -- On this first anniversary of the anthrax attacks, a number of conclusions can be drawn even without
an arrest by the FBI. First, the strain and properties of the weaponized anthrax found in the letters show that it originated
within the U.S. biodefense program, where the necessary expertise and access are found. Government officials recognized that
the anthrax source was domestic less than two weeks after they learned of the letters, and nothing in their investigation
has led them to say otherwise since.
One can also conclude that, given the origin of the anthrax and the warnings contained in the letters, the perpetrator's
motive was not to kill but rather to raise public fear and thereby spur Congress to increase spending on biodefense. In this,
the attacks have been phenomenally successful.
Paradoxically, however, by breaking the taboo on using biological weapons, the attacks have engendered a threat that could
dwarf Sept. 11. Modes of successful attack and public responses have now been demonstrated for the instruction of future terrorists.
What's more, it seems to have been easy to hide incriminating evidence, and, after a whole year of FBI bumbling, it looks
likely that the attacker will get away with the crime. Although the death toll was relatively low, the strikes crippled business,
government and postal services. Contamination in buildings has proved difficult, costly and time-consuming to remove, with
some facilities still not restored; the public health system was strained beyond capacity.
Although biodefense has gotten a shot in the arm, it is important to understand that the goal of defending against bioweapons
is not primarily public protection--which is largely impossible, as last year's attacks demonstrated. It is rather "to
allow the military forces of the United States to survive and successfully complete their operational missions ... in battlespace
environments contaminated with chemical or biological warfare agents," according to the annual report of the Department
of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense Program.
Biological weapons are preeminently anti-population weapons. But it would be impossible to provide the entire country
with protective suits, masks, detectors, shelters, training and vaccinations against the large and growing array of potential
agents. In any event, vaccinations can have serious side effects and can be overcome if the dose of the pathogenic agent is
large or if the agent has been engineered to evade the vaccine.
Instead of protection, the civil defense response is entirely concerned with limiting the damage should an attack occur.
There are also paradoxes here. Because of the rush to "do something," large amounts of government money are being
thrown, without sufficient forethought, at research involving potential biological weapons agents. Scientists go where the
money is, and we're now seeing a crowd of biologists lacking in relevant experience trooping to the trough.
The number of research laboratories and personnel handling dangerous pathogens is about to mushroom, making oversight
and adequate safety and security control much more difficult to impose--particularly with the increased emphasis on secrecy.
Ultimately, the very problem that made the anthrax attacks possible will be magnified.
One can confidently expect the U.S. to squander resources that could far better be used to extend the modest improvements
being made in the public health system. Natural outbreaks of disease, including rapidly emerging new diseases for which we
are unprepared, are a far more likely hazard for most people. Improving the public health system's ability to respond would
help combat these diseases as well as biological attacks.
The anthrax probe has disclosed an astounding degree of irresponsibility and lack of security at Ft. Detrick, Md., home
to the nation's premier existing biodefense laboratory. The problems stretch back for decades and extend beyond the anthrax
attacks. In spite of a security crackdown there following the attacks, two incidents have occurred this year at Ft. Detrick
in which spores escaped from a high-containment laboratory and were found in hallways, offices and locker rooms. One case
was recognized only when an unauthorized employee took swabs outside the laboratory to check for anthrax contamination--something
no one had thought of doing there before.
The anthrax investigation has raised questions about the nature and value of the work at Ft. Detrick and has brought to
light the granting of security clearance and free access to highly dangerous biological agents to someone with falsified credentials--very
disturbing whether or not he turns out to be the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.
Even more serious concerns have been raised by the discovery of secret biodefense projects that push against the limits
of international prohibitions. It was recently revealed that an Army laboratory in Utah has been secretly making weaponized
anthrax for some years. Another secret project involved the construction of bomblets designed for dispersion of biological
agents, although the Biological Weapons Convention explicitly prohibits developing, producing or possessing "means of
delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes." Such projects have raised suspicions abroad that
the U.S. continues to develop biological weapons--suspicions that, even if not true, are likely to spur a new biological arms
Experts agree that a significant bioterror attack today would require the support of a national program to succeed. But
for two years now, the U.S. has opposed every international effort to monitor the ban on the development and possession of
biological weapons by states or to strengthen the toothless Biological Weapons Convention in any way.
The anthrax attacks have not altered that stance. Two weeks ago, I attended an informal meeting in Geneva where diplomats
from six continents struggled in the face of U.S. intransigence to map out a joint strategy for combating the global biological
threat. The United States had demanded that a formal Biological Weapons Convention conference, scheduled to take place during
two weeks in November, should instead disband in one day with only an agreement not to meet again until 2006. To make sure
that the American resolve prevails in this setting where international consensus is de rigueur, the U.S. demand was accompanied
by an overt threat to disrupt any further proceedings with accusations that would make productive international action impossible.
At that Geneva meeting, the assembled diplomats, representing the political spectrum from our closest allies to declared
enemies, were uniformly frustrated. They find it hard to comprehend why a country that has just been the victim of bioterrorism
should stand in the way of peaceful efforts supported by all its allies to deter bioterrorism.
It is surprising how quickly public terror in response to the anthrax attacks turned to public indifference. But the story
isn't over. The likelihood of bioterrorism is increasing, and the American public is still the preferred target. Government
decisions will be critical in determining the sequel. The preservation of public health and safety, like freedom, will now
require public vigilance.
II. Letter and Victim Chronology
Updated 29 August, 2002
Sept. 18, 2001 Trenton Mailing of anthrax letters to NBC and NY Post and probably to the National Enquirer.
Sept. 20 St. Petersburg Mailing of hoax letters to NBC and probably to NY Post [and National Enquirer?]
Sept. 21 place? Mailing of accusatory letter to Quantico Marine Base accusing Dr. Asaad, former USAMRIID scientist, as
Sept. 19-25 NYC NBC received and opened ANTHRAX letter (brown granular sandy); not recognized as dangerous, and not reported
Sept. 25 NYC NBC received and opened HOAX letter postmarked 20 Sept; notified FBI but incident not reported by media.
Oct. 1 DC Washington Times article quoting SH (reprint from 11 Aug 97).
Oct. 2 Boca Raton Stevens (AMI) checked into hospital, near death, undiagnosed.
Oct. 4 Boca Raton First report of anthrax case, 5pm (Stevens, AMI).
Oct. 5 Boca Raton Death of first anthrax victim (Stevens, inhalation anthrax).
Oct. 5 St. Petersburg Mailing of hoax letters hoax letters to J. Miller at NY Times and H. Troxler at St. Petersburg Times.
Oct. 5-8 US media Suspicion of possible bioterrorism is increasing but mail not implicated.
Oct. 6-7 Boca Raton At AMI, spores found in 2nd worker and on Stevens' computer keyboard.
Oct. 8 Boca Raton 2nd worker (Blanco, mailroom worker) at AMI sick, nasal spores detected; FBI takes over investigation,
seals AMI office. Blanco later confirmed to have inhalation anthrax.
Oct. 9 US media Looks like bioterrorism (letters not yet recognized as source).
Oct. 9 St. Petersburg Troxler (St. P Times) opened hoax letter.
Oct. 9 Trenton Mailing of anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy.
Oct. 10 Boca Raton 3rd AMI worker (2nd in mailroom) tests positive for anthrax. FBI now conducting criminal investigation.
Anthrax strain appears to be Ames.
Oct. 10-12 US media First suspicion that source of anthrax at AMI might be a letter (not found), since two of those affected
work in mailroom.
Oct. 12 NYC Miller at NYT opened hoax letter.
Oct. 12-13 US media First reports of any anthrax of hoax letters to media.
Oct. 12 NYC NBC cutaneous anthrax case reported (Brokaw's Assistant). First symptom was 25 Sept.
Oct. 13 NYC NBC anthrax letter and hoax letter first reported. (FBI had ignored NBC hoax letter, opened 25 Sept., until
anthrax diagnosed on 12 Oct.) Brokaw's Assistant now recalls seeing a second letter, weeks earlier, containing a brown, granular
substance, most of which was discarded but letter retained.
Oct. 13 Boca Raton At least 6 workers at AMI have tested positive for anthrax and are on antibiotics.
Oct. 14 ff US media Copycat hoax letters now appearing.
Oct. 15 DC Daschle's office opened anthrax letter.
Oct. 16 NYC Infant who was at ABC office on 28 Sept. has cutaneous anthrax. No further evidence at ABC, suggests case
due to cross-contamination of mail.
Oct. 16 Trenton Two postal workers report possible symptoms; by 20 Oct both diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.
Oct. 19 NYC NY Post anthrax employee diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax (symptoms started 22 Sept); letter with anthrax
found unopened in mailroom. Employee remembers opening a similarly-addressed (hoax) letter earlier.
Oct. 20 US Media First mention that source of anthrax letters is probably domestic.
Oct. 21 DC Several DC postal workers may have anthrax. By 25 Oct, two DC postal workers were dead and two more ill, as
well as a State Dept. mail processer, all with inhalation anthrax.
Oct. 24 ff US media Increasing concentration on domestic source for letters.
Oct. 31 NYC Dead from inhalation anthrax: Kathy Nguyen, hospital worker. No source found; presumed cross-contamination
of mail, although clinical observations suggest a large initial dose.
Nov. 9 US Media FBI released profile of sender of anthrax letters, implying the source is domestic.
Nov. 15 UK Mailing of hoax letter to Daschle office in Capitol.
Nov. 16 DC Anthrax letter to Leahy found unopened in bag of Congressional mail held without distribution since Daschle
Nov. 16 CT Connecticut woman dies of inhalation anthrax; source probably cross-contamination of mail.
Jan. 03, 2002 DC Daschle's Capitol office opened hoax letter (delay in receipt due to irradiation of Capitol mail).
III. Statement by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg
11 August 2002
I have never mentioned any names in connection with the anthrax investigation, not to the FBI, nor to media, nor to Senate
Committees or staffs, not to anyone. I have never said or written anything publicly that pointed only to one specific person.
Anyone who sees parallels is expressing his own opinion.
It is the FBI that has gone out of its way to make one suspect's name public. I presume they must have had some good reason
for doing that; only time will tell. But if the publicity was not an important part of their investigative strategy, I think
it was reprehensible.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg
IV. Commentary: Is the FBI Dragging Its Feet?
February 5, 2002
For more than three months now the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American. This conclusion
must have been based on the perpetrator’s evident connection to the US biodefense program. In addition to this signpost,
the perpetrator has left multiple, blatant clues, seemingly on purpose: second letters, addressed similarly to the anthrax
letters and containing powder, sent to most (and possibly all) the anthrax recipients; similar letters sent to several other
media organizations; even a letter, addressed to the Military Police at the Quantico Marine Base, accusing a former USAMRIID
scientist (with whom the anonymous writer says he once worked) of having bioterrorist intentions. Almost all the letters were
mailed before there were any reports of anthrax letters or of hoax letters sent to media (see "Analysis of the Anthrax
Attacks" below for a chronology and discussion of the available data). The postal addresses and dates of these letters
map out an itinerary of the perpetrator(s) and indicate certain connections, which taken together must single out the perpetrator
from the other likely suspects.
This evidence permits a more refined estimate of the perpetrator’s motives. He must be angry at some biodefense
agency or component, and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government’s
inability to respond. He is cocksure that he can get away with it. Does he know something that he believes to be sufficiently
damaging to the United States to make him untouchable by the FBI?
The perpetrator is surely too smart to believe that either the FBI’s ludicrous recent actions or the White House
protestations of ignorance mean that the authorities are not on to him. Blanketing Central New Jersey with fliers showing
handwriting that was obviously disguised can’t possibly evoke useful information, nor can letters to 32,000 American
microbiologists, 31,800 of whom live in a different world from the perpetrator. This is no way to instill public confidence
in the competence of the FBI. The press is increasingly questioning the situation, and other scientists have independently
raised similar issues (see, for example, "In Search of the Anthrax Attacker" http://www.redflagsweekly.com/nassanthrax3.html).
Most importantly, the apparent lack of action is sending a dangerous message to potential bioterrorists.
V. Letter Chronology
Updated January, 31 2002
Four letters with anthrax have been found, and a fifth (to AMI) was apparently discarded after opening. In addition, at
least three of the five anthrax recipients also received "hoax" letters containing an innocuous powder; and several
different media offices received similar hoax letters. Some of the hoax letters were mailed BEFORE the first anthrax case
(in Florida) was reported, and all but one hoax letter were mailed BEFORE there were any reports of anthrax letters or hoax
letters. Therefore the hoax letters targeting media are not simply a copycat phenomenon. The envelopes on most or all of the
hoax letters were addressed in block capitals similar to the addresses on the anthrax envielopes, even though they were mailed
before the anthrax envelopes became known. A photograph of one hoax letter (to St. Petersburg Times) has been published, and
descriptions or comparisons of others have been reported. If analysis confirms that the hoax letters were sent by the anthrax
perpetrator, their postmarks will indicate his itinerary (or the assistance of an accomplice)—see chronology below.
At least three hoax letters, known to have been mailed from St. Petersburg, are similar in many ways to each other and
to the anthrax letters: addresses written in similar block capitals, tone of letters, unconvincing misspellings. Were the
enclosed letters also xeroxed? no fingerprints? stamps not licked? Are the other hoax letters similar?
Furthermore, an anonymous letter accusing a former USAMRIID scientist of plotting terrorism was sent to police BEFORE
any anthrax letters or disease were reported. The letter contains evidence that the anonymous writer had probably worked at
USAMRIID. This letter may also come from the anthrax perpetrator.
DATE LOCATION EVENT
Sept. 18, 2001 Trenton Mailed anthrax letters to NBC and NY Post (and probably to National Enquirer).
Sept. 20 St. Petersburg Mailed hoax letter to NBC and possibly to NY Post** [& Natl. Enq.?]
Sept. 19-25 NBC received & opened anthrax letter (brown granular sandy); not recognized as dangerous.
Sept. 25 NBC received & opened hoax letter.
late Sept. place? Mailed letter to Quantico Marine Base accusing Dr. Asaad, former USAMRIID scientist, of being a terrorist.
Oct. 4 First report of anthrax case (in Florida).
Oct. 5 Death of first anthrax victim (in Florida)
Oct. 5 St. Petersburg Mailed hoax letters to J. Miller at NY Times and H. Troxler at St. Petersburg Times.
Oct. ~5-9 place? Mailed hoax letters to CBS (DC), Fox News and possibly to NY Post**
Oct. 9 Troxler (St. Petersburg Times) opened hoax letter.
Oct. 9 Trenton Mailed anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy.
Oct. 12 Miller at NYT opened hoax letter.
Oct. 12-13 First reports of any letters to media.
Oct. 13 NBC anthrax case and both suspicious letters first reported. (FBI had previously overlooked events at NBC.)
Oct. 13 CBS News (D.C.) received envelope with powder visible on outside.
Oct. 8-13 Fox News received hoax letter.
Oct. 15 Daschle's Hart office opened anthrax letter.
Oct. 19 NY Post anthrax case diagnosed and letter with anthrax found unopened in mailroom. Employee remembers opening
a similarly-addressed (hoax) letter**, earlier.
late Nov. UK Mailed hoax letter to Daschle office in Capitol.
Jan. 03, 2002 Daschle's Capitol office opened hoax letter (delay in receipt due to irradiation of Capitol mail).
VI. Notes on the Letters
January 31, 2002
Florida anthrax letter: postal traces show that a letter containing anthrax must have been sent to the National Enquirer
at its previous address, then forwarded to the AMI office. This indicates that the perpetrator was not familiar with AMI and
the Natl. Enquirer.
Florida hoax letter?: Possibly a hoax letter was discarded without notice, as the anthrax letter was. In addition, on
approximately 4 Sept. AMI received a fan letter containing powder and a star of David, addressed to actress Jennifer Lopez
c/o The Sun (one of the AMI tabloids). Because the anthrax letter was evidently addressed to the National Enquirer, not The
Sun, the Sun letter is probably irrelevant.
Hoax letter to NY Post: was received and thrown out sometime before 19 Oct. It was addressed to the Editor in block capitals,
similar to the anthrax letter received by the NY Post. The NY Post hoax letter could have been mailed on 5 Oct. from St. Petersburg,
along with the hoax letters to the NY Times and St. Petersburg Times, or it could have been mailed earlier (eg, on 20 Sept.,
when the hoax letter was mailed to NBC). The anthrax letters to NBC and the NY Post had been mailed at the same time (18 Sept)
and it is possible that the perpetrator mailed hoax letters on 20 Sept to all of those previously sent anthrax.
Hoax letter to NBC: letter contained talcum and was mailed from St. P on 20 Sept., two days after the anthrax letter was
mailed to NBC from Trenton. Both letters contained threats to Israel.
Hoax letters to Judith Miller at the NY Times and Howard Troxler at the St. Petersburg Times: these were mailed on 5 Oct.
from St. Petersburg and were similar in appearance and content to the NBC hoax letter mailed from St. P on 20 Sept. but not
yet reported. The NY Times and St. P Times letters were in stamped, plain envelopes with no return address. A photo of the
St. P. envelope was published in the St. P Times, showing great similarity to the printing on the anthrax letters (which had
not yet been reported—in two cases—or mailed—in the other two cases). The NY Times letter contained
talcum and threatened the Sears Tower in Chicago and President Bush. The St P Times letter contained what looked like sugar
or salt and said "Howard Toxler...1st case of disease now blow away this dust so you can see how the real thing flys.
Oklahoma-Ryder Truck! Skyway bridge-18 wheels."
Hoax letters to CBS News in Washington, DC and to Fox News: were received on or shortly before 13 Oct. No further information
has been reported. They could have been mailed from St. Petersburg on 5 Oct., along with the NY Times and St. P Times letters;
or from a place between St. Petersburg and Trenton between 5-9 Oct. Oct. On 12 Oct. an FBI official said they were investigating
multiple mailed envelopes from St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Police Chief would not comment on whether that included
other letters in addition to those sent NBC, NY Times and St. P Times.
Hoax letter to Senator Daschle: was received and opened by Sen. Daschle’s office in the Capitol on 3 Jan. 02,
after a delay for irradiation. The letter was mailed from the UK. The envelope contained a powder and a threatening letter
unlike those that were mailed with anthrax, according to the FBI. This letter was mailed much later than the others, sometime
in late Nov., a month after the other hoax letters and the anthrax letters had been reported. Whether the letter was addressed
in block printing, like the anthrax letters, has not been revealed.
Anonymous letter of accusation: contained a long, typed letter with good command of English language, displaying considerable
knowledge of Dr. Assaad, his work at USAMRIID and his personal life and accusing Assaad of planning terrorism. The letter
was shown by the FBI to Assaad and his lawyer. The FBI subsequently exhonorated Assaad. The letter, sent to the Marine base
at Quantico, VA., asserts that the accuser formerly worked with Assaad. It was sent before any cases of anthrax were discovered.
VII. Analysis of the Source of the Anthrax Attacks
January 17-31, 2002
The Present Situation
The FBI has surely known for several months that the anthrax attack was an inside job. A government estimate for the number
of scientists involved in the US anthrax program over the last five years is 200 people. According to a former defense scientist
the number of defense scientists with hands-on anthrax experience and the necessary access is smaller, under 50. The FBI has
received short lists of specific suspects with credible motives from a number of knowledgeable inside sources, and has found
or been given clues (beyond those presented below) that could lead to incriminating evidence. By now the FBI must have a good
idea of who the perpetrator is. There may be two factors accounting for the lack of public acknowledgement and the paucity
of information being released: a fear that embarrassing details might become public, and a need for secrecy in order to acquire
sufficient hard evidence to convict the perpetrator.
All letter samples contain the same strain of anthrax, corresponding to the AMES strain in the Northern Arizona University
database (which has been used for identification). The Ames strain possessed by N. Arizona University is referred to herein
as the “reference strain.” That strain was obtained by LSU from Porton Down (UK) in 1997 (the sample was
marked “10-32” meaning no. 10 of 32 samples sent); Porton had gotten it from Fort Detrick. Fort Detrick
got it from Texas A&M (but mistakenly attributed it to the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa) in 1981. Earlier anthrax isolates
from Ames, Iowa have caused some confusion but they are no longer relevant to the situation, thanks to recent genetic analyses
Contrary to early speculation, there are no more than about 20 laboratories known to have the Ames strain. The names of
15 of these have been found in the open literature (see Appendix). Of these, probably only about four in the US might possibly
have the capability for weaponizing anthrax. Those four include both US military laboratories and a government contractor.
Genetic analysis performed at Northern Arizona University on Ames strain samples from Fort Detrick (USAMRIID), Dugway
Proving Ground, the UK defense establishment at Porton, Louisiana State University and Northern Arizona University has shown
that all of these laboratories possess identical anthrax stocks that match the letter anthrax perfectly (in the limited analyses
that have been done). All these stocks were originally derived from Fort Detrick’s 1980 Ames strain. USAMRIID acknowledges
that it also provided Ames to the Canadian defense establishment at Suffield, the University of New Mexico, and Battelle Memorial
Institute (a large contracting organization with laboratories and personnel in many locations including military laboratories).
Excluding the three academic institutions, two of which are intimately involved in the investigation, and the two foreign
defense laboratories, places the focus on USAMRIID, Dugway and Battelle as the source of the Ames strain for the letters.
The complete sequence has been determined for the genomes of both the anthrax used in the Florida attack and the Ames
reference strain to which it corresponds. This work was done under government contract by the Institute for Genetic Research,
a private non-profit organization. The results have not been made public but they are in government hands and there has been
no retraction of the oft-repeated official statement that the letter anthrax matches the Ames reference strain.
Analysis of trace contaminants in the letter anthrax has probably been carried out but not reported. The results could
indicate whether the anthrax was grown in liquid medium (and what kind of medium), or on petri dishes; the latter would likely
rule out large-scale preparation. It has been estimated that the perpetrator used a total of about 10g in the letters.
"Weaponization" is used here to mean preparation of the form of anthrax found in the Daschle letter: fine particles,
very narrow size range, treated to eliminate static charge so it won’t clump and will float in the air. The weaponization
process used was extraordinarily effective. The particles have a narrow size range (1.5-3 microns diameter), typical of the
optimal US process.
The extraordinary concentration (one trillion spores per gram) and purity of the letter anthrax is believed to be characteristic
of material made by the optimal US process.
The optimal US weaponization process is secret—Bill Patrick, its inventor, holds five secret patents on the
process and says it involves a combination of chemicals . There is no evidence that any other country possesses the formula.
Under the microscope, the letter anthrax appears to be unmilled. Milled anthrax spores are identifiable because they contain
debris. The optimal US process does not use milling.
The Daschle sample contains a special form of silica used in the US process. It does not contain bentonite (used by the
A “coating” on the spores in the letter sample, indicative of the secret US process, has been observed.
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC has studied the sample using an energy dispersive X-ray specroscope,
which can detect the presence of extremely tiny quantities of chemicals; traces of several chemicals have been found (but
not reported, presumably for security reasons).
All the letters probably contained the same material. The clumping of the anthrax in the two letters mailed on Sept 18
(to NBC and the NY Post) probably resulted from the letters getting wet in the course of mail processing or delivery, according
to Army scientists. This conclusion is strengthened by the similarity of the Florida anthrax (the first to be observed, probably
also mailed on Sept 18) to that in the Daschle letter, mailed Oct 9.
The letter anthrax was made after 1980 (when the Ames strain used was obtained) using a process similar to the secret,
optimal US process. If the anthrax was weaponized by the perpetrator himself, there may be some differences from anthrax weaponized
by the government, depending on the availability of materials to the perpetrator and the conditions of preparation.
Scientists formerly at USAMRIID say that it would have been easy for a scientist working with anthrax to remove a sample
of the Ames strain from the lab. Only a miniscule amount would be needed, and security has been lax.
On the other hand, experts believe that it would be extremely difficult to steal 10g of weaponized anthrax from a government
lab. Thus, the perpetrator very likely grew and weaponized the letter anthrax himself.
There was only one week between Sept 11 and Sept 18, when the first two letters (and probably another letter, never found,
to AMI) were postmarked. This suggests that the anthrax was already in hand, and the attack largely planned, before Sept 11.
A classified report dated February, 1999 discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated
by a series of false anthrax mailings, was written by William Patrick, inventor of the US weaponization process, under a CIA
contract to SAIC. The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. According
to the NY Times (12 Dec. 01) the report predicted about 2.5g of anthrax per envelope (the Daschle letter contained 2g) and
assumed a poorer quality of anthrax than that found in the Daschle letter. If the perpetrator had access to the materials
and information necessary for the attack, he must have had security clearance or other means for accessing classified information,
and may therefore have seen the report and used it as a model for the attack.
An anonymous letter was sent to police, apparently in September, accusing an Egyptian-born American scientist who had
been laid off by USAMRIID of being a terrorist. The FBI questioned and released the accused scientist as innocent. Details
of the letter have not been released. Could this letter have been sent by the perpetrator (who would likely have known about
the USAMRIID lay-offs) to cover his traces?
The perpetrator did not aim to kill but to create public fear. The letters warned of anthrax or the need to take antibiotics,
making it possible for those who handled the letters to protect themselves; and it is unlikely that the perpetrator would
have anticipated that the rough treatment of mail in letter sorters, etc, would force anthrax spores through the pores of
the envelopes (which were taped to keep the anthrax inside) and infect postal workers and others.
The perpetrator was probably ready before Sept. 11 and simply took advantage of the likelihood that Sept. 11 would throw
suspicion on Muslim terrorists. Was the perpetrator trying to push the US toward some retaliatory military action?
The perpetrator must have realized in advance that the anthrax attack would result in the strengthening of US defense
and response capabilities. This is not likely to have been a goal of anti-American terrorists, who would also be unlikely
to warn the victims in advance. Perhaps the perpetrator stood to gain in some way from increased funding and recognition for
biodefense programs. Financial beneficiaries would include the BioPort Corp., the source of the US anthrax vaccine, and other
potential vaccine contractors.
Expert analysts for the FBI believe that the letters were written by a Westerner, not a Middle Easterner or Muslim, although
the text was clearly intended to imply the latter.
The choice of a variety of media as targets seems to have been cleverly designed to ensure a broad spectrum of publicity
about the attacks. The choice of Senators Daschle and Leahy suggests that the perpetrator may lean to the political right
and may have some specific grudge against those Senators.
The perpetrator successfully covered every personal trace when he prepared and mailed the letters, which suggests that
he had forensic training or experience.
Even if the perpetrator did not make the anthrax himself, just filling the letters with it was a dangerous operation.
The perpetrator therefore must have received the anthrax vaccine recently (it requires a yearly booster shot). The vaccine
is in short supply and is not generally accessible, and vaccination records are undoubtedly available. The perpetrator also
appears to have special expertise in evading contamination while handling weaponized anthrax.
Government Statements, Actions and Chronology
On 13 Jan. 02 Homeland Security Director Thomas Ridge said "the primary direction of the investigation is turned
inward" toward domestic terrorists.
On 2 Dec. 01 a law enforcement official close to the federal investigation called the concept of a government insider,
or someone in contact with an insider, “the most likely hypothesis…it’s definitely reasonable.”
Another American official was quoted in the same article saying that, in addition to military laboratories, "there are
other government and contractor facilities that do classified work with access to dangerous strains, but it’s highly
likely that the material in the anthrax letters came from a person or persons who really had great expertise. We haven’t
seen any other artifacts that point us elsewhere."
Secret or questionable biodefense projects tend to be given to the CIA, DOE or other agencies and contractors instead
of to DOD, in order to maintain deniability (for example, only DOD programs have been reported by the US in the annual information
exchange about biodefense activities, under the Biological Weapons Convention). Many contractor scientists work in government
labs. A CIA spokesman says that CIA scientists work with other government agencies and contractors on the biodefense program.
Chronology: Analytical data on the anthrax in the letters became available to investigators in late October, 2001. The
FBI then began questioning former government scientists. On 31 Oct. it was reported that the US rejected a UN resolution offered
by France to condemn the anthrax attack, on the grounds that it could have been domestic terrorism. On 9 Nov. the FBI released
a profile of the perpetrator as a lone, male domestic terrorist, obviously one with a scientific background and laboratory
experience who could handle hazardous materials. In early Dec. the FBI said it was investigating government and contractor
labs possessing the Ames strain, and individuals who had access to them. On 16 Dec. the FBI said it was focusing on a contractor
that worked with the CIA. At about the same time the FBI said it was interested in non-military individuals who had received
the anthrax vaccine.
John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said on 19 Nov. that “We
don’t know…at the moment, in a way that we could make public, where the anthrax attacks came from.”
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, recipient of one of the anthrax letters and in frequent contact with investigators,
said on 8 Dec. that the perpetrator was probably someone with a military background. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman,
said on 17 Dec. that it is increasingly "looking like it was a domestic source."
After a series of uncontrolled statements to the media, relevant experts have been asked to keep quiet and, in some cases,
appear to have been asked to "correct" former statements.
Possible Portrait of the Anthrax Perpetrator
Insider in US biodefense, doctoral degree in a relevant branch of biology
Experienced and skilled in working with hazardous pathogens, including anthrax, and avoiding contamination
Works for a CIA contractor in Washington, DC area
Has up-to-date vaccination with anthrax vaccine
Has clearance for access to classified information
Worked in USAMRIID laboratory in the past, in some capacity, and has access now
Knows Bill Patrick and has probably learned a thing or two about weaponization from him, informally
Has had training or experience in covering evidence
May have had an UNSCOM connection
Has had a dispute with a government agency
Has a private location where the materials for the attack were accumulated and prepared
Worked on the letters alone or with peripheral encouragement and assistance
Fits FBI profile
Has the necessary expertise, access and a past history indicating appropriate capabilities and temperament
Has been questioned by FBI
A recent report by the Congressional General Accounting Office, as well as many recent statements by military and non-governmental
experts in the BW field, holds that terrorists are unlikely to be able to mount a major biological attack without substantial
assistance from a government sponsor. The recent anthrax attack was a minor one but nonetheless we now see that it was made
possible by a sophisticated government program. It is reassuring to know that it was probably not perpetrated by a lone terrorist
without state support.
It is not reassuring, however, to discover that secret US programs may have been the source of that support, and that
security is so dangerously lax in military or defense contractor laboratories. US government insistence on pursuing and maintaining
the secrecy of elaborate biological threat assessment activities is undermining the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons
Convention and encouraging biological weapons proliferation in other countries, which in turn may support bioterrorist attacks
on the American public. Future deterrence, and the peace of mind of the American people, require that the perpetrator must
be publicly identified and brought to justice without delay.
LABORATORIES THAT HAVE WORKED WITH THE AMES STRAIN OF ANTHRAX
(Information obtained from open sources)
USAMRID # +
Dugway Proving Ground (Utah) # * +
Naval Research Medical Center/Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and other associated military labs (MD) #
Battelle Memorial Institute (Ohio; plus laboratories in many other locations) # * +
Duke University Medical School, Clinical Microbiology Lab (NC)
VA Medical Center, Durham (NC)
USDA laboratory and Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames (Iowa)
LSU College of Veterinary Medicine * +
Northern Arizona State University (Arizona) * +
Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IL)
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque (NM) * +
Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, Porton Down (UK) * +
CAMR, Porton (UK) *
Defense Research Establishment, Suffield (CA) * +
BioPort Corp (MI)
In addition, CDC, NIH, Los Alamos and a few others may have the Ames strain; the Institute for Genomic Research (MD) says
they have the Ames DNA but not the bacteria.
# indicates laboratories in the US that are estimated to be more likely than the others to have weaponization capabilities
* Obtained through a FOIA request by the Washington Post (article Nov 30, 01)
+ indicates acknowledged recipients of the Ames strain from USAMRIID
IX. Ancillary Materials From Other Sources
Particularly relevant quotations are bold-faced.
1. FBI Letter to Members of the American Society for Microbiology
January 29, 2002
FROM: Van Harp, Assistant Director, Washington Field Office
Federal Bureau of Investigation
On September 18, 2001, two copies of an identical letter were mailed in separate envelopes from Trenton, NJ, one to "Editor,
New York Post" and the other to "Tom Brokaw, NBC TV." Each letter contained a significant quantity of the bacterium
On October 9, 2001, two additional copies of a slightly different letter were mailed from Trenton, NJ, the first to "Senator
(Tom) Daschle" and the second to "Senator (Patrick) Leahy." Each of these letters again contained Bacillus
anthracis but of a better quality than the letters mailed to New York.
As a result of these mailings and the resulting bacterial infections, there are five innocent persons who are dead, including
a ninety-four year old Connecticut Woman. Additional cases of cutaneous anthrax have infected numerous individuals including
a seven month old baby in New York City.
I would like to appeal to the talented men and women of the American Society for Microbiology to assist the FBI in identifying
the person who mailed these letters. It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual. A review of the information-to-date
in this matter leads investigators to believe that a single person is most likely responsible for these mailings. This person
is experienced working in a laboratory. Based on his or her selection of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis one would expect
that this individual has or had legitimate access to select biological agents at some time. This person has the technical
knowledge and/or expertise to produce a highly refined and deadly product. This person has exhibited a clear, rational thought
process and appears to be very organized in the production and mailing of these letters. The perpetrator might be described
as "stand-offish" and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting. It is possible this
person used off-hours in a laboratory or may have even established an improvised or concealed facility comprised of sufficient
equipment to produce the anthrax.
It is important to ensure that all relevant information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is brought to the attention
of the investigators in this case. If you believe that you have information that might assist in the identification of this
individual, please contact the FBI via telephone at 1-800-CRIME TV (1-800-274-6388) or via email at the following website:
There is also a $2.5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible
in this case.
[Note: The ASM cover letter, explaining the FBI request for the mailing, contains the following statement: "The action
was criminal and not ideological."]
2. White House Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
February 25, 2002
FBI Probing Several Anthrax Suspects
Q Ari, what can the White House say about this report on anthrax, that there's been a suspect for three months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've noted that report and I've done some digging into the topic. I wish it was that easy and that simple
right now, but unfortunately, there still are several suspects. There's not as if there's only one. And so the FBI is continuing
its investigative efforts. That story, I think, was a little overreaching in saying there's just one. The FBI has not narrowed
it down to just one; they are continuing their investigation.
Q Well, is it an American, and is it a scientist from Fort Dietrick that is being looked at out of the group that you're
MR. FLEISCHER: All indications are that the source of the anthrax is domestic. And I can't give you any more specific
information than that. That's part of what the FBI is actively reviewing. And I just can't go beyond that.
Q And on a personal note for the victims, some of the victims who are still alive who suffered from the anthrax have not
heard from the Homeland Security Director, have not heard from the President, have not heard from congressional -- like the
ones who represent the Brentwood Postal facility. And some say there's insensitivity on the part of the federal government.
What do you say about that, for these victims who are still suffering, who still can't read well, who are still going through
years of possible rehabilitation after this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would hope that's not the case.
Q Well, it is the case. They have not been contacted.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that in all instances that the appropriate health authorities, whether they were federal
government or state government or a collaboration of both, have been in touch. Very often, in the case of people who are hospitalized,
the federal Centers for Disease Control was intimately involved in all areas involving the anthrax that was -- the anthrax
attacks. So it's been a very difficult chapter for all concerned, particularly the families of those who lost their lives
in the attack. It was difficult moments for the government.
Obviously, anybody who would engage in that type of terrorism through the mail puts people in a position where it becomes
very difficult not only for them, but for local communities, for all the people who were affected by all the hoaxes that followed
those attacks. But I think the federal government responded as well as it could, given the knowledge the federal government
had, as quickly as it could. And if any individuals who were involved had anything more specific where they want to talk to
anybody in the federal government, I know the federal government throughout the various agencies would want to respond.
Q Back on to anthrax for a minute, what's the sense here about the pace of the investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the experience that we're seen in this investigation is that these things are often very difficult
to catch who did something like this. Obviously, the person who did this is very smart, has employed means that are very difficult
to track. The block handwriting on the letters was chosen most likely by design, knowing how hard it is to track that type
And so the President would like to get this, obviously, resolved as quickly as is possible. The pace of justice is a methodical
one. It's very important for them to build a case that will stand up in court, that is thorough, and is conclusive. And that's
the effort of the FBI, and the President believes the FBI is doing a good, solid job.
Q Does the White House feel the government has a full handle now on the inventories of anthrax at universities, at military
MR. FLEISCHER: To the best of all the information that we have received here, that was never a question. The military
laboratories, other laboratories accounted for their anthrax -- the military laboratories accounted for their anthrax, those
under federal purview. And so that has not been a question, the best that I've been briefed on that topic.
CONTACT: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, PhD
Chair, Federation of American Scientists Working Group on Biological Weapons