2001 anthrax attacks

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

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



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

The first set of anthrax letters had a Trenton, New Jersey postmark dated September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Five letters are believed to have been mailed at this time, to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and the New York Post, all in New York City; and to American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida, which publishes the National Enquirer. AMI also publishes a tabloid called Sun where Robert Stevens, the first person who died from the mailings, worked. Only the New York Post and NBC News letters were actually found; the existence of the other three letters is inferred from the pattern of infection.

The second and final pair of anthrax letters, bearing the same Trenton postmark, were dated October 9, three weeks after the first mailing. At the time of the second mailing, Robert Stevens had just died of inhalation anthrax, but the source of the anthrax had yet to be discovered. The letters were addressed to two Democratic Senators, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. More potent than the first anthrax letters, the material in the Senate letters was a highly refined dry powder consisting of approximately one gram of nearly pure spores. Some reports described the material in the Senate letters as "weaponized" or "weapons grade" anthrax. The Daschle letter was opened by an aide on October 15, and the government mail service was shut down. The unopened Leahy letter was discovered in an impounded mail bag on November 16. It turned out that the Leahy letter was directed to the State Department mail facility by mistake, due to a misread Zip code. A postal worker there contracted inhalation anthrax, but survived.

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

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


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Across the street from Princeton University, anthrax was found in the center mailbox.
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Reward poster

The Justice Department has named no suspects in the anthrax case. Although Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled Dr. Steven Hatfill a "person of interest" in a press conference, no charges have been brought against him. Hatfill, a virologist, has vehemently denied he had anything to do with the anthrax mailings, and has sued the government for violating his constitutional rights. He has also sued The New York Times and its columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, and separately Donald Foster and others, for defamation. (The case against The New York Times was dismissed. [1] (http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/wp041129.html))

The letters contained at least two grades of anthrax material, but all of the anthrax was the same strain. Known as the Ames strain, it was first researched at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Ames strain was then distributed to at least fifteen bio-research labs within the US and six overseas.

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

In August 2002, investigators found traces of anthrax in a Princeton, New Jersey city street mailbox, which was likely used to mail some or all of the letters. The mailbox was located at 10 Nassau Street, which adjoins the Princeton University campus.

A reward for information totalling US$2.5 million is being offered by the FBI, U.S. Postal Service, and ADVO, Inc.

The return address

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

4th Grade
Greendale School
Franklin Park NJ 08852

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

Amateur investigators and journalists

A number of people outside government have taken an interest in the anthrax case, analyzing clues and developing theories. ("Armchair Sleuths Track Anthrax Without a Badge", The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2002 [2] (http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/amateursleuthsanthrax.html))

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg Phd

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

Don Foster

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

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

Ed Lake

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

Richard M. Smith

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

Gary Matsumoto

Gary Matsumoto is a journalist and the author of the article, "Anthrax Powder - State of the Art?" (Science, November 28, 2003). In his article, Matsumoto discusses the advanced properties of the anthrax found in the Senate letters. Matsumoto concludes this weaponized form of anthrax came from a bio-weapons lab. He suggests a hidden US government anthrax program may have been the source of the anthrax.

Ross E. Getman

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

Robert Pate

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


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Contaminated mail flow

Contamination and cleanup

Dozens of buildings were contaminated with anthrax as a result of the mailings. American Media, Inc. moved to a different building. The decontamination of the Brentwood postal facility took 26 months and cost US$130 million. The Hamilton, NJ postal facility remained closed until March 2005; its cleanup cost US$65 million. The Environmental Protection Agency spent US$27 million to clean up government buildings in Washington, D.C.

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

Political effects

The anthrax attacks, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks, have spurred significant increases in U.S. government funding for biological warfare research and preparedness. For example, biowarfare-related funding at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) increased by US$1.5 billion in 2003. In 2004, Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act, which provides US$5.6 billion over ten years for the purchase of new vaccines and drugs. ("Taking biodefense too far", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 2004 [3] (http://www.thebulletin.org/print.php?art_ofn=nd04wright)).

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


Years after the attack, several anthrax victims reported lingering health problems including fatigue, shortness of breath, and memory loss. The cause of the reported symptoms is unknown. ("Anthrax survivors find life a struggle", The Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2003) [4] (http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/anthraxsurvivors.html).

("After a Shower of Anthrax, an Illness and a Mystery", The New York Times, June 7, 2005) [5] (http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050607/ZNYT04/506070337/1010/STATE)


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

The attacks

  • October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, dies, the first known death from inhalation anthrax in the U.S. since 1976.
  • October 7: Anthrax is found on Robert Steven's computer keyboard. The American Media building is closed and workers are tested for exposure.
  • October 6-October 9: Attack #2 - Some time within this range, two more anthrax letters are mailed, targeting Senators Daschle and Leahy. (Monday, October 8, was Columbus Day, hence no mail pickup).
  • October 12: The (already opened) anthrax letter to NBC News is found, the first direct evidence of bioterrorism as the cause of the anthrax outbreak.
  • October 15: The letter to Senator Daschle is opened. It is quickly confirmed to be anthrax.
  • October 17: 31 Capitol workers (five Capitol police officers, three Russ Feingold staffers, 23 Tom Daschle staffers), test positive for the presence of anthrax (presumably via nasal swabs, etc.). Feingold's office is behind Daschle's in the Hart Senate Building. Anthrax spores are found in a Senate mailroom located in an office building near the Capitol. There are rumors that anthrax was found in the ventilation system of the Capitol building itself. The House of Representatives announces it will adjourn in response to the threat.
  • October 19: The unopened New York Post anthrax letter is found.
  • October 23: It is confirmed that the two postal handlers died of pulmonary anthrax. The men are Joseph P. Curseen, 47, and Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55.
  • October 25: David Hose, who works at the State Department mail facility, is hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. The source is the Leahy letter, which was routed to the State Department in error.
  • October 29: Kathy Nguyen, a New York City hospital worker, is hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. The source of the anthrax is unknown.
  • November 16: The Leahy anthrax letter is found in the impounded Senate mail.
  • November 20: Ottilie Lundgren, of Oxford, Connecticut, is diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. The source was most likely contaminated mail, although no anthrax was detected in her home.
  • November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, dies, the fifth and final person to die as a result of the mailings.

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Related events

  • December 14, 2002: The U.S. Postal Service begins to decontaminate the Brentwood mail facility 14 months after it was closed.
  • May 11, 2003: Ponds on the north side of Catoctin Mountain, near Gambrill Park Road and Tower Road in Frederick, Maryland, are under investigation by the FBI, in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks. Divers reportedly retrieved a "clear box" with holes that could accommodate protective biological safety gloves, as well as vials wrapped in plastic from a pond in the Frederick Municipal Forest. A new theory has been developed suggesting how a criminal could have packed anthrax spores into envelopes without harming himself.
  • June 28, 2003: The FBI finishes its investigation of the pond in Frederick, Maryland. Evidence found in the pond includes a bicycle, some logs, a street sign, coins, fishing lures, and a handgun. The FBI takes soil samples from the bottom of the pond for testing. No anthrax is found.

The notes

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The first anthrax note

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

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The second anthrax note

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


The notes were apparently photocopied and then trimmed.

See also


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

External links

Analysis and theories



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