In a deep investigative piece, Abby and Robbie Martin explore the 2001 Anthrax Attacks––what led to them, why they happened, and how the Bush administration used them to manufacture consent for the illegal invasion of Iraq.
ABBY MARTIN : 17 years ago, less than one month after the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001, weaponized anthrax was sent through the mail in a biological attack that stunned an already traumatized nation. The first American died from anthrax infection on October 5th. During the weeks that followed, letters sent through the US postal system containing anthrax were targeted at US media organizations and sitting US senators. In the end, five people were left dead–two US postal workers, a Florida photojournalist, a New York city hospital worker and a 95 year old widow in Connecticut. Over 22 people were hospitalized from exposure. Many dozens more tested positive for anthrax in the months that followed.
It was a one-two punch of guttural horror. Americans were already glued to their television sets, watching 24/7 coverage of planes exploding and iconic skyscrapers crumbling. Over and over, we watched thousands perish. But terrorism was still abstract to those removed from the tragedy. The anthrax attacks changed that, localizing the fear of terrorism to everyone––even your grandma living in the suburbs of Connecticut. Anyone could get a letter. Anyone could be the next target.
With the remains of the World Trade Center still smoldering, the Bush administration made several attempts to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The anthrax attacks gave them the perfect opportunity to piggyback ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fears on a very real bioweapons attack. They used willing reporters as instruments to tie nonexistent bentonite from the anthrax letters to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons cache. Journalist stenographers in DC were the conduit for government propaganda, hyping up the threat of terrorism. The anthrax attacks justified the fear-mongering that 9/11 was not simply a one-off incident, and that terrorism was America’s new normal.
Not since the Zodiac killer letters had Americans been subjected to such strange visual threats like the block text in short lines that the anthrax letters read:
“ARE YOU AFRAID?
YOU DIE NEXT
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT.”
The letters were almost a parody of an islamic terrorist. But who was actually behind the attack? Who had the expertise necessary to secretly manufacture and then distribute weaponized anthrax spores? Who had the motive?
In this special episode of Media Roots Radio, after conducting extensive research from public documents, tv news archives, wire stories, first hand interviews and eye witness accounts, myself and Robbie Martin will tell the story of the 2001 anthrax attacks, what preceded them, what happened during the investigation and how this seemingly small event was instrumental in selling the Iraq war, shaping the reality tunnel we live in now. In Part 1 of our investigation, we start with a chronology of the lead up to the attacks and a blow by blow account of how they unfolded.
ROBBIE MARTIN : Our story starts in 1999, during the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Rudy Giuliani was the mayor of New York city. At the time Rudy wasn’t yet considered a national hero. Other than a few appearances on Saturday Night Live, his fame didn’t extend beyond city limits. Rudy’s record as mayor of New York was mixed at best. He had an unprecedented 35 successful free speech lawsuits filed against his office and his controversial policies dealing with crime and homelessness heavily polarized the citizens of New York. Rudy still thought very highly of himself, as evident in his weekly AM radio show “Live From City Hall With Rudy Giuliani”. A Parkinson’s patient once called in to complain that the New York City Health Office refused to honor his medicaid, and Rudy infamously responded by mercilessly mocking him his voice with no sympathy live on air.
One of Giuliani’s proudest moments as mayor was on June 8th 1999, when overseeing and unveiling the NY City Office of Emergency Management command bunker on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center building number 7 to the tune of $13 million dollars. Jerome Hauer was made head of the OEM in 1996 when the agency was launched. As director he was not only in charge of the WTC 7 command bunker project–the entire thing was his brainchild. The command center was built heavily fortified with bomb-resistant walls. It had its own air and water supply. The command center’s proximity to the 1993 WTC bombing site was criticized, but the plans moved forward regardless. A few months later, sometime in September of 1999, the Office of Emergency Management scheduled a drill simulating a mass casualty event, as they regularly did. The large-scale live exercise was called “CitySafe”. “CitySafe” simulated an anthrax attack in the Bronx. Volunteers were going to act as anthrax victims. The US Army as also scheduled to participate. The exercise would have cost over $1 million dollars. However, it was canceled by Jerome Hauer, the director of the Office of Emergency Management, due to an outbreak of West Nile virus. The outbreak resulted in 62 cases of acute encephalitis in the New York area, leaving seven dead. The live action bio-terror drill ‘CitySafe” was postponed indefinitely.
For the next few weeks, Giuliani orders acting director Hauer to arrange mass chemical spraying on the ground and in the air around areas hit with West Nile to kill mosquitos. The toxic insecticide they used, Malathion, generates extreme controversy and environmental concerns for years to come. One month later, in early October 1999, the New Yorker publishes an article titled ‘West Nile Mystery’. The article cites a CIA analyst to allege the West Nile outbreak was potentially the work of Saddam Hussein. Jerome Hauer responds to this suggestion on October 11th in a CBS report saying “Nothing indicates that this was anything other than a natural outbreak.”
Interestingly, one year earlier, Jerome convinced Giuliani to fund studies on a potential West Nile Virus outbreak. His career continued to flourish, even after it was determined his decision to spray New York city caused more health problems than the west nile virus itself.
Hauer eventually left his post as OEM director on February 1st 2000 to work in the private sector for Virginia-based defense contractor, SAIC’s Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis, also serving dual role as its Vice President. A few months later, in October 2000, Hauer takes a job as managing director of Kroll Inc, a multi-faceted private security company described by one journalist as a ‘CIA for wall street’. One of Kroll Inc. security contracts is managing security for the World Trade Center Complex.
About two years later, on March 20th, 2001, George W. Bush is now president of the united states. The National Enquirer runs a cover story called ‘Bush Daughters WILD LIFE’ showing a photograph depicting Bush’s daughters on the ground, seemingly intoxicated, smoking. The National Enquirer is typically known for publishing stories like ‘Hillary Clinton Has a Brain Tumor’ or ‘Ted Cruz’s Dad Killed Kennedy’, but in this instance the story happened to be entirely true. The National Enquirer at the time was published out of Boca Raton, Florida, owned by American Media Inc. AMI also owns the even more sensationalistic version of The Enquirer and The Sun, published out of the same location.
Mid June, 2001, not far from the offices of the Enquirer, future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Al Haznawi and Zaid al-Jarrah visited Ft Lauderdale, Florida Holy Cross hospital. Al Haznawi is seen by a doctor for a nasty leg lesion. The doctor is bewildered by the wound and gives Alhaznawai an antibiotic regimen to treat it. He keeps notes of the visit which are later requested by the FBI.
About a week later, to the north east at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. Several former US government officials, including former CIA director James Woolsey, former NY Office of Emergency Management director Jerome Hauer and four US journalists: Judith Miller of the NYtimes, Lester Riengold of NPR, Mary Walsh from CBS News and Jim Miklaszewski, former chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC news, all participated in an elaborate bio-terror attack simulation called Dark Winter, which included dozens of actors and observers being professionally filmed for fake news broadcasts. Jointly put on by the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the drill simulated a bioterror attack in the form of aerosolized smallpox targeting Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the simulation, the smallpox turned into a pandemic, killing millions. The culprit of the attack in this imaginary scenario was Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. One of the very last lines of the scripted drill is a fake broadcast reporting ‘there is a very high probability this attack was conducted by either state or a state sponsored international terrorist organization’ and that ‘A prominent Iraqi defector is claiming that Iraq arranged the bioweapons attack on the US through intermediaries’. This drill is later said to have been extremely influential in the thinking of several key Bush officials like Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney. The Dark Winter operation was carried out the two days over June 22 – June 23, 2001.
Fast forward to August 16th, 2001. In Minnesota, FBI agent Harry Samit takes a man named Zacarias Moussaoui into custody. Earlier that day, they were contacted by a flight instructor of Pan-Am International Flight Academy because of Moussaoui suspicious behavior. Moussaoui wanted to learn only how to take off, not to land. When Samit and other FBI agents examined Moussaoui belongings they became alarmed that he might have terrorist intentions. His belongings included a laptop, two knives, flight manuals for Boeing’s 747 aircraft, a flight simulator computer program, and a computer disk with information about crop dusting. Over the next ten days, FBI agents including Samit and Coleen Rowley sent 70 emails requesting access to search Moussaoui room and laptop.
Later, on August 28th, 2001, the head FBI office responded to the Minnesota branches request. FBI’s national security law unit head, Marion Bowman, nicknamed “Spike” Bowman, delivered the bad news to Rowley. Their request for a warrant was rejected. According to statements later made by Samit and Rowley, they believes if Moussaoui belongings had been searched prior to 9/11, the entire plot could have possibly been unraveled. To this day, Rowley pins the blame on Spike Bowman for preventing it from happening.
Three months after participating in Operation Dark Winter, on September 4th 2001, NY Times reporter Judith Miller co-authors an article on Pentagon plans to develop a more potent version of weaponized anthrax, titled “U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits”. Judith Miller’s main journalistic beat during this period was covering the very secretive US bioweapons program.
Back in Minnesota, on September 10th, 2001, Samit resorts to reporting a potential hijacking to the FAA in an attempt to get a warrant against Moussaoui. In an email he pleads “I am so desperate to get into his computer, I’ll take anything,”
It’s the morning of September 11th 2001, and FEMA teams had already moved equipment into downtown Manhattan the night before to prepare for another bioterror anthrax drill put on by Giuliani’s office of emergency management called ‘Tripod II’. It was scheduled for the 12th, but the horrifying events that took place next put Tripod II on hold, indefinitely.
ABBY : At 8:46 AM Flight 11 hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan NY. The impact occurs between floors 93 and 99. About 15 minutes later, at 9:03 AM, Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, striking between floors 77 and 85. 30 minutes later, at 9:37 AM, in Arlington County, Virginia, American Airlines Flight 77 hits the Pentagon.
Back in Manhattan, only one hour after being hit by a plane, At 9:59 AM, the south tower collapses. Just minutes later, at 10:03 AM, United Flight 93 crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. The plane’s actual destination is unknown. Early reports said it was on the way to Camp David, but the US government say the most likely target was the White House or Capitol Building. Less than two hours after the north tower is hit by a plane, it also collapses. It is 10:28 am.
Jerome Hauer was not in his office in the World Trade Center that day. This gave him, a so-called terrorism expert, the opportunity to appear on TV to provide context for the attacks as they were unfolding.
At 1pm : Hauer appears in the CBS studio with Dan Rather.
Two hours later around 3pm : Hauer appears on ABC with Peter Jennings. Hauer explains why city government officials, including Rudy Giuliani, abandoned the WTC 7 emergency command bunker during the middle of an ongoing emergency. He says they left because 7 was showing major structural damage.
On the same program, about 20 minutes later, a panelist asks Jerome Hauer what the US Government knew prior to 9/11
With the OEM command center in WTC 7 completely empty, at 5:51pm the entire WTC 7 building collapses.
Around 9pm, in Washington DC, Dick Cheney’s staff is alerted to start taking cipro injections to prevent anthrax by former NY city Office of Emergency Management head, and current Kroll inc director, Jerome Hauer. It is still unknown exactly who in the Bush administration, or on Cheney’s staff, started taking cipro, or for how long they continued to take it.
At 10pm in Florida, Mike Irish, editor in chief for the Sun, wakes up to an alarming phone call from the FBI. They want to speak to his wife Gloria Irish, a real estate agent. They ask her if she rented an apartment to two men in Florida: Marwan Al-Shehhi and Hamza Alghamdi–two of the hijackers who died in the 9/11 attacks. She tells the FBI she recognizes the names and schedules a follow up interview with the FBI.
The next morning, September 12th 2001, Americans are in a deep state of a shock. A neoconservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century, or PNAC, founded by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, already had 17 members planted in top positions of the George W Bush cabinet. Just hours after the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil, they were beginning to spread a particular message. The think-tank would come to serve as a propaganda mechanism to out-hawk the Bush administration itself. On an obscure AM radio program out of DC hosted by Milt Rosenberg, two PNAC members, Don Kagan and his son Fred Kagan, egg on a US military invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and even Palestine as retaliation for 9/11. Don Kagan ends the interview by asking ‘what would have happened if they had anthrax on that plane?’
Back in NY city, another PNAC member, former CIA director James Woolsey appears on NBC with Peter Jennings. He directly fingers Iraq for being responsible for 9/11. Jennings pushes back and repeatedly asks Woolsey to clarify why he’s blaming Iraq with no evidence.
The next morning, on September 13th: Back in DC, Giuliani, now seen as a heroic figure for his performance on 9/11, speaks to president Bush on a live phone-call from the oval office.
6 days later, on September 19th 2001: Influential neocon Richard Perle, PNAC member, advisor to George W Bush AND member of the Office of Special Planning in the Pentagon, goes on CNN to say conventional means to stop future attacks “won’t be effective” because “the next attack” is likely to be “chemical or biological weapons used in water supplies”
The next day, on September 20th 2001: President Bush gets a visit from UK prime minister Tony Blair and speaks to the press outlining the importance of America’s commitment to a drawn out ‘war on terror’. Missing was the rhetoric of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that would later become a household term. Initially the Bush administration’s rhetoric about future terrorism contained no such language.
That same day, Bush appoints Tom Ridge head of a brand new government agency designed to prevent terrorism called the Department of Homeland Security.
ROBBIE : Two days later, on September 22nd 2001: Time Magazine runs a compelling story about how some of the 9/11 hijackers may have attempted to rent crop dusters for a potential attack, but the details are vague. The reports were based on eyewitness testimony of James Lester, who worked at an airstrip in Belle Glade, Florida, as a crop-duster mechanic. He remembered Muhammad Atta specifically and told reporters: “They wanted to know (the) capacity of the airplane, how much would the airplane hold, how much fuel and how to crank it.” He and others at the airfield also describe strange behavior from Muhammad Atta such as Atta trying to climb into the cockpit of a crop duster and start it without permission.
On the same day, Newsday runs an article about the crop-dusters quoting now defacto TV terrorism expert Jerome Hauer. Hauer says there is a ‘new sense of urgency in Washington DC’ on the bioterrorism issue and intelligence information that “Osama Bin Laden wants to acquire these agents and we know he has links to Saddam and Saddam Hussein has them”
The next day on September 23rd 2001: CNN reports “Last week, the FBI imposed a ban on crop-dusting but has since modified it to keep crop-dusters away from metropolitan areas.”
Around the same time The National Agricultural Aviation Association posted the following statement, saying it had come from the FBI:
“Members should be vigilant to any suspicious activity relative to the use, training in or acquisition of dangerous chemicals or airborne application of same, including threats, unusual purchases, suspicious behavior by employees or customers and unusual contacts with the public. Members should report any suspicious circumstances or information to local FBI offices.”
On September 24th 2001: ABC and AP start running similar reports, this time with slightly more details, including claims the hijackers may have intended to disperse anthrax with the crop dusters. The articles insinuate that 9/11 was not an isolated event and there could be more attacks coming via different means. Even though the behavior of Muhammad Atta was almost cartoonishly unbelievable, in 2002 an even more ridiculous story comes out involving Atta trying to get a USDA government loan for crop-dusters appeared, seemingly confirming these early reports.
Regardless of the fact that the 9/11 attacks did not actually include chemical or biological weapons, fears of bioterrorism started ramping up in US and in Europe. The next day, on September 25th 2001: Local news channels report on terrified americans stocking up on gas masks and guns.
That same evening on ABC shows footage of health professionals, US military and emergency crews preparing for a future anthrax or smallpox attack. An animation is shown illustrating how fast anthrax would disperse in a NY subway system and how many people it could conceivably kill.
On the morning of September 26th, 2001, the Washington Times publishes an article by Bill Gertz titled “Bin Laden terror group tries to acquire chemical arms”. The article begins by alleging that Al Qaeda was trying to acquire Sarin nerve gas and anthrax,
“Intelligence officials say classified analysis of the types of chemicals and toxins sought by al Qaeda indicate the group probably is trying to produce the nerve agent Sarin, or biological weapons made up of anthrax spores. Sarin can be produced from the components used to make fertilizer and kills by disrupting the central nervous system. Anthrax is a highly lethal biological weapon that causes death after spores are ingested.”
Larry Johnson, a former state dept counterterrorism official is also quoted as saying that Bin Laden’s group had a relationship with the Russian mafia, speculating this as a means as to how Al Qaeda could acquire such weapons.
Fears of terrorism and terrorist attacks weren’t just dominating the US narrative, but the UK narrative as well. That same day, a major drill went underway in England involving a mock bioterror attack. That evening, the BBC runs a program showing footage of the drill with participants wearing hazmat suits. Dr David Claridge, a UK intelligence analyst tries to tamp down the hysteria it might generate.
ABBY : Two days later, on September 28th 2001: 63 year old Bob Stevens enjoys the view from the top of Chimney Rock mountain in North Carolina with his wife Maureen and Daughter Casey. Bob was a veteran photo editor for the Sun, a tabloid publication of American Media Inc in Boca Raton, Florida. Even though he loved his job, he once fancied himself a more serious journalist, and would never have pictured himself working at an outlet that peddled in innuendo and gossip like the Sun. Bob was self aware enough to know the publication he worked for was a textbook tabloid, but still took pleasure in his work. In some regards, he found it liberating to deal with lighter content than his previous beat. In other words, Bob found the job relatively easy, and it left him with enough energy to enjoy his life outside of work. Originally from the UK, Bob lived with his wife Maureen in Lantana, Florida, about a one hour drive from his workplace. Bob and his wife traveled often, and this time they were visiting their daughter Casey. As bob drove home from the beautifully scenic Chimney Rock in the late afternoon, he felt uncharacteristically tired. He was a very physically active guy for his age but sightseeing all day seemed to have taken a toll on his stamina. Bob decided to let his daughter and wife go shopping while he went home to rest.
The next morning, on September 29th, Bob told his wife and daughter to go to church without him. When they return they started their 2 ½ hour trek to meet Casey’s boyfriend. Halfway through the drive, Bob begin to shiver and shake, his face bright red. Casey got spooked by her Dad’s appearance enough to try to take him back home, but he refused. Bob was stubborn.
When they arrived at their destination, Casey’s boyfriend opened the front door. He immediately noticed how sick Bob looked, and after a quick introduction offered him an empty bed to rest on. Bob was getting more weak and feverish by the minute. They all had lunch plans together, but he urged his family to go on without him. When they returned a couple hours later they demanded that Bob go to an emergency room, but he again refused, convinced he got a mild bug from traveling.
After another day of Bob pressing on through family outings, he’s relieved for their journey to be over tomorrow. On October 1st 2001, Bob wake up claiming he is feeling better, but is running a temperature of 101. His wife registers a 102, so she reassures herself maybe they both got the same bug. They decide to make the two hour trek back home. Maureen watches Bob closely throughout the drive, making sure he is hydrated.
Around the same time, an employee who worked for the same company as Bob in the same building, Ernesto Blanco, took himself to Miami’s Cedars Medical Center after becoming extremely ill. Ernesto was a friendly 73 year old mailroom clerk with a head full of black hair. When he finally sees a doctor, they diagnosed him with pneumonia and started to treat it accordingly. However, Ernesto didn’t have pneumonia, he had something America hadn’t seen a documented case of in over 25 years.
Later the same evening, about 60 miles from the hospital Ernesto is being treated, Bob Stevens and his wife Maureen arrive back at their home in Lantana, Florida. Bob goes to bed early around 8pm.
October 2nd, 2001, Maureen awakens at 1AM to the sound of Bob violently vomiting in the master bathroom. She finds him kneeling near the toilet, fully dressed, even though she saw him go to bed in his pajamas. She tries to ask Bob questions about his unusual behavior and becomes extremely alarmed, when his responses are incoherent and slurred. She decides he needs medical attention immediately and convinces him to go to the emergency room.
Maureen quickly throws on some clothes, carries Bob into the car and drives furiously towards the nearest hospital. She pulls up to the JFK Medical Center emergency room in Atlantis, Florida at around 2AM. Bob is quickly admitted after presenting disorientation, a high fever, and vomiting, unable to speak.
At around 5AM, with Bob in stable condition, the doctors tell Maureen they think he just has a treatable case of meningitis, and to go home and wait.
When Maureen returns at 8AM, to her horror, Bob is in a coma with a breathing tube. He suffered a seizure in the middle of the night. Maureen waits desperately for the doctors to give her good news.
At 8:30am, infectious diseases specialist Dr Larry Bush, gets a call from ICU.They tell him they have a 63 year old man here with apparent meningitis, but that his his cerebrospinal fluid is cloudy. They explain that they need Dr. Bush to the fluid test under a microscope. Dr. Larry Bush tells the ICU that he’s on his way.
When Dr. Bush arrives to Bob’s room around 10am he sees Maureen distraught sitting by his bedside. He takes Bob’s vitals while he asks her questions about his recent behavior. He hears a crackling sound in Bob’s lungs through his stethoscope, what he believes is caused by an major obstruction. Dr. Bush become even more concerned after fewing the spinal fluid under a microscope. He realizes what he’s looking at is not meningitis at all but something much more rare. The bacteria has a characteristic rod shape to it, something that he’s only seen in medical textbooks before. Something that looks like anthrax bacillus.
ROBBIE : That same morning, stores around the country unveiled a new book called GERMS, co-authored by New York Times reporter Judith Miller. GERMS chronicles the history of biowarfare and also proposes that one of the greatest threats we face is bioterrorism from groups like Al Qaeda, working with countries like Iraq, or even Russia. Miller received special access to senior Bush officials for her book, specifically Scooter Libby, who she portrayed as a heroic genius and misunderstood soothsayer.
Later that afternoon in Maryland, an Egyptian-born EPA scientist and former Ft. Detrick biowarfare researcher, Dr. Ayaad Assaad, gets a surprise phone call from the FBI. He’s requested to appear before them the next day to discuss an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a former coworker accusing him of being a potential bioterrorist.
The next day, on October 3rd 2001, at JFK hospital, Bob Stevens’ condition is worsening, Maureen continues to sit at his bedside in futility, hoping for a miraculous recovery. Dr. Bush is already convinced Bob has anthrax poisoning but hasn’t told Maureen yet about his findings.
The public has not yet learned about Bob Stevens’ contraction of anthrax. Yet mounting hysteria over the threat of bioterrorism results in a lengthy US senate hearing that same day. The Bush administration sends Health and Human Services director Tommy Thompson, instead of counter-terrorism czar and bioweapons expert Richard Clarke, to answer questions before senators.
During Bush’s first term, Tommy Thompson was widely mocked as the most bumbling member of his cabinet, next to attorney general John Ashcroft. One beltway reporter at the time even described him as a ‘human shield’
It’s the day of the FBI interrogation with Egyptian-born Ft. Detrick Maryland scientist Dr. Ayaad Assaad. During the questioning, they ask him about the anonymous 212 word typed letter they received accusing him of being “a potential biological terrorist” with “a vendetta against the U.S. government, and that if anything happens to him, he told his sons to carry on”. Assad vehemently denies the accusations. The accusatory letter describes Assad’s personal and professional background in detail, seemingly written by someone who knew him well. He is extremely alarmed, and feels he’s being framed for a crime he not only didn’t commit but that hadn’t even happened yet. It must be emphasized here that Robert Stevens having anthrax was at this point, still totally unknown to the public. Satisfied with Assad’s answers, the FBI never speaks to him again. The US press doesn’t pick up on the story until a few months later, when Assad speaks to the press directly about what happened, and how he thinks he was racially discriminated against and framed by a conspiracy of islamophobic co-workers.
ABBY : Back at JFK medical center. On October 4th, 2001 Dr. Larry Bush finally decides to go forward with his anthrax diagnosis, attracting the FBI and CDC. The agencies send units from each field office. The first victim in the anthrax attacks is finally recognized, and Bob Stevens is officially diagnosed with inhalation anthrax poisoning. Maureen’s reaction to the news is sheer confusion. She is completely dumbfounded how Bob even contracted the disease.
The CDC and FBI ask Maureen to take part in a press conference announcing the diagnosis and she reluctantly complies.
Back in Washington DC, the White House press corp suspects the anthrax diagnosis is terrorism related, but Tommy Thompson tries to dissuade their fears. Strange, considering that just one day earlier, Thompson appeared before a senate hearing on bioterrorism. This press conference set the tone for how the Bush administration would continue to act towards the anthrax attacks–they would essentially play dumb.
On October 5th 2001: In Florida, Bob Stevens’ condition deteriorates at an exponential rate and later that day dies from inhalation anthrax in the hospital. Stevens becomes the first documented person in the United States to die of anthrax infection in the last 25 years, and the first casualty in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Six years later, Maureen Stevens discusses how she pressed on after her husband’s shocking death.
In a continuing contrast to the Bush administration’s rush for attribution of the 9/11 attacks, Health and Human Services director Tommy Thompson tells the press that Stevens’ death is an ‘isolated case’ and that he may have contracted anthrax from ‘livestock’ while ‘visiting a farm’– even though Stevens had done no such thing. Thompson also stresses the death is not terrorism related and that no criminal investigation has started.
Regardless, US Government agencies start consulting with the US military’s Ft. Detrick Maryland bioweapons labs experts to identify the anthrax spores.
On October 6th 2001: Back at the Miami Medical Center, Stevens co-worker, Eddie Blanco, becomes the second confirmed diagnosed case of anthrax exposure. The hospital he’s being treated already began to administer cipro, an aggressive antibiotic treatment. The CDC is notified but refuses to confirm the anthrax diagnosis for two whole months.
The next day on October 7th 2001: FBI and CDC agents descend on American Media Inc.’s property. No hazmat or Quarantine procedures are yet done. For now, US government officials interview employees and swab for contamination. They ask Stevens’ coworkers if they remember anything unusual in the days leading up to his death.
While swabs are being taken to detect anthrax spores around the AMI offices, Anthrax is allegedly found on Robert Stevens’s computer keyboard.
According to law enforcement, once they got a positive result for anthrax and spoke to a few of Stevens’ co-workers they pieced together a likely scenario (they claimed) as to how Stevens contracted the anthrax. Managing editor of the Sun Joe West helped paint the picture with an incredible story, later published in the Enquirer itself (the Enquirer and Sun share the same building and are both owned by AMI). He says a letter arrived three weeks earlier to the office with “Please forward to Jennifer Lopez ℅ The Sun” written on the envelope. Before he even saw the writing, he found the letter suspicious, because it felt bulky. When Joe picked it up out of the pile he could feel a cylindrical object inside of it. He told himself ‘don’t open it’ and threw it in the trash. Recently hired news assistant, Bobby Bender was nearby, and noticed the odd letter. As his daughter happened to be a huge JLo fan, he asked if he could open it. Joe obliged. As Bobby opened it, he describes a cigar tube falling out that contained a real cigar. It was accompanied by an empty tin of chewing tobacco, a small empty detergent carton and a stalker like hand written sexually provocative fan-letter to Jennifer Lopez. Joe decided he has more important things to do so he let Bobby amuse himself with the contents.
As Bobby walked to another area of the Sun offices, 13-year old Photo assistant Roz Suss fills in the gaps with his eye witness account.
“It was a business size sheet of stationary decorated with pink and blue clouds around the edges, it was folded into three sections, and in the middle was a pile of what looked like pink tinged talcum powder. Sticking out of the powder was a little gold something. I couldn’t tell.” Roz said.
“Just then Bob Stevens came walking from his desk , he was obviously curious about it and held out his hands. Bender delicately transferred the letter from his palms to Bob’s hand. Bob walked back to his desk and sat down, holding the letter in his cupped palms over the keyboard of his computer, with his arms bent so his face was right over the powder and just inches away from it”
“He was peering down for several seconds into the letter and the powder and the gold thing sticking out” “I heard him say ‘Gee, it looks like a Jewish star’” “I reached from behind Bob and picked it out of the powder with two fingers. Sure enough, it was a little plastic Star of David with a little loop for a string or chain. I threw it into the trash and walked away” I never did see what Bob did with the letter or the powder, I assume he threw it in the trash.”
The FBI begins to leak information to the press about how Stevens contracted anthrax and why he stuck his face close to a pile of white powder folded inside of a hand written letter by a crazed person. Their explanation was Stevens was nearsighted and would have had to hold the letter up close to read it. As implausible as it may sound, the 13 year old photo assistant’s eyewitness account remains the most comprehensive narrative of Stevens poisoning. Aside from the detection of microscopic anthrax spores in the office, no physical evidence was ever found of the alleged murder weapon––the letter or it’s contents.
Even though the Bush administration’s own neoconservative cabal had been obsessed with the concept of bioterrorism preceding and following 9/11, Bush and the Justice Department kept the CDC in charge of the anthrax investigation, not the FBI. Stevens’ death is still not treated as a criminal investigation.
Around 3pm the next day on October 8th, 2001, attorney general John Ashcroft emphasizes this decision in a press conference.
“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 is appropriate, relying on the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and health authorities.”
That evening, the US military launches the first wave of military attacks on the sovereign country of Afghanistan using the rationale of rooting out Al Qaeda.
ROBBIE : For unstated reasons the next day, October 9th 2001: the Bush administration finally has the FBI take over the investigation from the CDC. The anthrax attacks officially become a criminal investigation.
While the FBI or Bush cabinet don’t refer to it as a “terrorist incident,” news outlets run wild with speculation anyways, like the ABC news headline from the same day “Anthrax Scare in Florida Has People Rushing for Treatment Wondering if it’s Terrorism Related.”
October 10th 2001, the media starts to report on the hundreds of AMI employees in Florida who are ordered to undergo testing for Anthrax.
Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, signs a quarantine order for the AMI building and closes it down. It’s not until this day, five days after Stevens death, that smaller media outlets like the Miami Herald began to speculate on a possible link between the 9/11 hijackers and the anthrax attacks.
Later that day, the UK and US sign an official agreement to fight bioterrorism, even though the US government is still refusing to call the anthrax attack terrorism. Regardless, it’s on this day that Tommy Thompson is once again trotted out as spokesperson to meet with their UK counterparts. The agreement is called `Collaboration in Improving Public Health Responses to Emergencies’. According to AP, it is a means to “share information and resources to protect the residents of both countries from the threat of bioterrorism.” and that “The pact will ensure the UK and USA’s public health systems “stand together” in protecting the population from acts of bioterrorism.”
That evening, CNN reports on the ongoing anthrax investigation at the AMI building in Florida.
Early the next morning of October 11th 2001: a third employee of the AMI company tests positive for anthrax infection and is sent to a local hospital for treatment. So far, the victims have all been people who worked in the same office building in Boca Raton, Florida. At this point in time, the anthrax attacks appeared to still be an isolated incident, with a single crime scene.
That evening, Bush speaks from the White House about the threat of bioterrorism for the first time, contextualized around the story of the 9/11 hijackers attempting to rent crop dusters. It’s the first time Bush says ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in a speech. With news about anthrax in Florida dominating headlines for a week, it was clear at this point, Bush’s use of the phrase ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was just a metonym for anthrax. On the surface, Bush may have seemed like a bumbling fool, but his neoconservative writers, and policy makers were clever. Utilizing this talking point ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as a metonym for anthrax was a neoconservative no-brainer
Members of the beltway press were already very aware of the neoconservatives hawks urging Bush to invade Iraq, only one month after 9/11.
Alarmingly, the Bush administration pivoted from crop dusters and anthrax–to weapons of mass destruction–to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
ABBY : October 12th 2001: Sometime in the afternoon, an innocuous letter addressed to Tom Brokaw is delivered to NBC at the 30 Rock building in New York City. It was opened by a staffer who discovered a fine grain talcum like powder that plumed like smoke, accompanied by a letter that read:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENICILLIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT”
Before the FBI releases the test results, an NBC employee who came into contact with the letter tests positive for anthrax poisoning. Across town that same day, New York times reporter Judith Miller opens another letter addressed to her, at her office. The letter contains white powder which she believed to be anthrax, but after FBI testing, it was proven to be inert and not anthrax. Whoever mailed this letter, however, was aware that real anthrax letters had already been sent in the mail, as the NBC letter arrived that same day.
In Ames, Iowa, the university receives a call from the FBI, demanding they destroy their entire Ames strain anthrax database. They comply. Bio-weapons expert Frances Boyle believes he knows who ordered the destruction of the samples, and thinks it was done to cover up the crime.
“Clearly, for the FBI to have authorized this was obstruction of justice, a federal crime,” said Boyle. “That collection should have been preserved and protected as evidence. That’s the DNA, the fingerprints right there.”
Shortly before the destruction of the samples Boyle reached out to a terrorism expert he knew in the FBI, Marion ‘Spike’ Bowman. He wanted to offer his expertise.
“Boyle told Bowman that the only people who would have the capability to carry out the attacks were individuals working on U.S. government anthrax programs with access to a high-level biosafety lab. Boyle gave Bowman a full list of names of scientists, contractors and labs conducting anthrax work for the U.S. government and military.”
“Soon after I informed Bowman of this information, the FBI authorized the destruction of the Ames cultural anthrax database,” the professor said. The Ames strain turned out to be the same strain as the spores used in the attacks.” Boyle directly fingers FBI agent Spike Bowman as the man who he believes is responsible for ordering the destruction of the anthrax database but the FBI and University of Iowa officially claim the database was destroyed as a ‘precaution’ so no other terrorists could use it for future attacks.
That evening back in New York, Tom Brokaw reports soberly from NBC that the person at NBC who contracted anthrax was one of his own staffers.
Even though the media was heavily covering the anthrax attacks, across town at the mayor’s office, Giuliani conducts a press conference saying the attacks are ‘most likely contained’. Apparently, his grandstanding after 9/11 was just the beginning, as this would become the first of dozens of press conferences he would conduct, acting as if he was the authority–not the Governor or FBI.
ROBBIE : The next evening, on October 13th, 2001. Giuliani conducts another press conference telling people not to go to emergency rooms and not to worry about getting checked for anthrax.
Across town, NBC continues to cover the anthrax attacks, as their offices were a direct target. In retrospect, it’s easy to remember outlets like Fox News or CNN pushing unsubstantiated rumors about Iraq to grease the skids for war, but it was also liberal UK outlets like The Guardian that planted the early seeds for WMD propaganda.
On the morning of October 14, 2001 an article appeared in the Guardian stating:
“American investigators probing anthrax outbreaks in Florida and New York believe they have all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack – and have named Iraq as prime suspect as the source of the deadly spores. Their inquiries are adding to what US hawks say is a growing mass of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved, possibly indirectly, with the September 11 hijackers. If investigators’ fears are confirmed – and sceptics fear American hawks could be publicising the claim to press their case for strikes against Iraq – the pressure now building among senior Pentagon and White House officials in Washington for an attack may become irresistible.”
The article relies on whispers of “American investigators” without actually naming them, and serves as a shameful example of the wholesale lies and dangerous disinformation reporters repeated, that ultimately resulted in the devastating Iraq war.
Later that day, in DC. An unknown female postal worker at a Brentwood postal facility discovers an envelope filled with white powder in the vicinity of several other people. The incident is reported to management, but the actual letter later vanishes. Fellow employees are understandably apprehensive about news of anthrax laced letters, and await to hear further word from their superiors. At this time, postal workers in the DC area are still not warned to seek Cipro or other antibiotic preventative measures for anthrax.
The same day, the FBI finally makes public their knowledge about Sun editor Mike Irish’s wife Gloria renting a Florida apartment to two of the 9/11 hijackers. When the FBI originally questioned Gloria, the anthrax attacks hadn’t even happened yet. But still, the bizarre link of Gloria’s husband Mike being a long time officemate of Robert Stevens, the first anthrax victim, is written off by the FBI as nothing more than a strange coincidence.
ABBY : The next morning, on October 15th, 2001, another anthrax letter arrives in Washington, DC. At 10:30 AM, a staffer working for Senator Tom Daschle opens a suspicious looking letter that has the return address of: 4th grade // Greendale School // Franklin Park, NJ 08852.
The envelope contains fine grain white powder that appears to float when opened. It is accompanied by a letter that says:
“YOU CAN NOT STOP US
WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX
YOU DIE NOW
ARE YOU AFRAID?
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT ”
A few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, accompanied by Capitol Police, stages an impromptu press conference at the Capitol telling reporters an anthrax laced letter was delivered to his office. Lt. Dan Nichols explains that a ‘field test’ was conducted, meaning the test was done on-site, which proved the presence of anthrax. The FBI and CDC get involved immediately and treat the Capitol grounds as a crime scene.
In a “featured article” that morning, a writer for the Wall Street Journal states of the anthrax mailings, (with no evidence whatsoever) that:
“Several circumstantial links to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network are already known” and that “Bin Laden couldn’t be doing all this in Afghan caves. The leading supplier suspect has to be Iraq.”
While subtle at first, these whispers continued throughout the press, that somehow Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks.
That day, questions about Gloria Irish’s connection to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks are also raised by the US press. The Washington Post runs the article: ‘Sun Editor’s Wife Found Rentals for two hijackers’ by Jason Blum. In it, FBI spokesperson Judy Orihuela reiterates that her renting an apartment to the hijackers, and her husband’s employment at the AMI building is “just a coincidence right now,” and “I’m sure there will be some sort of follow-up.” While the FBI only questioned Gloria about this, the Washington Post found another connection involving her husband.
“Mike Irish, who, records show, is a licensed airplane pilot, several years ago was a member of the Civil Air Patrol based at a small-plane airport in Lantana, just north of Delray Beach, an official there said. One of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, reportedly rented a plane at that airport to practice flying for three days in August. Robert Stevens, 63, the Sun photo editor who died of anthrax Oct. 5, also lives in Lantana. But there is no indication whether Irish or Stevens ever crossed paths with Atta.”
Unbeknownst to the American public, that same day, George Bush himself pressures Robert Mueller of the FBI to find a link between the anthrax mailings and Al Qaeda, or other middle eastern groups.
This account was later published in the Daily Mail in 2008. Across the globe, hysteria about bioterrorism leads to real consequences, like in France who experienced their own anthrax scare. Or in Australia, when they had to evacuate an airport after recieving what was later determined to be an anthrax hoax letter.
ROBBIE : October 16th, 2001, in the morning. The seven-month-old son of an ABC freelance producer tests positive for anthrax poisoning. The baby developed a rash after soon visiting the network’s New York office on Sept. 28, weeks before the anthrax laced letter arrived at NBC. The source of the actual infection is undetermined.
In Washington DC, four postal workers who work together at Brentwood begin to fall ill, but none of the men communicate with each other about their early symptoms. They are: Leroy Richmond 56, Qieth McQue 53, Thomas Morris Jr 55, Joseph Curseen 47.
The same day, the media reports more than 50 anthrax scares around Australia, and the American consulate was sent a hoax letter. Additionally a UK mail sorting office was evacuated for white powder, suspected to be anthrax.
The panic about anthrax became global. Back in New York, Giuliani continues to gloat.
The same day, across the world in Qatar, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is being held, attended by many middle eastern leaders, including Iraq’s foreign minister, Naji Sabri Ahmed. When asked to respond to allegations that the Iraqi government is behind the anthrax mailings in the US, he says their claim is ‘bullshit’.
ABBY : October 17th 2001: AMI employees are ordered to go through a second round of anthrax tests. That afternoon, Florida Governor Jeb Bush gives a press conference, warning people not to send hoax letters.
AP Reports come in that the anthrax letters were sent through a New Jersey post office. This was only referring to the 2 letters found so far to NBC and Tom Daschle, now in FBI possession.
Later that day, anthrax is allegedly found at New York governor George Pataki’s office.
Back in DC, it is determined that over 36 senate staffers test positive for anthrax (3 staffers of Russ Feingold and 31 of Tom Daschle’s). Capitol employees also test positive.
Besides having adjoining offices, Daschle and Feingold shared something else in common. Both men were standing in the way of the USA Patriot Act from quickly passing in the Senate. Feingold was a staunch civil libertarian and the Patriot ACT offended his core sensibilities, whereas Daschle was more centrist, and was merely trying to put the brakes on it so Congress had time to debate the bill. Together with Leahey, Daschle was embroiled in sometimes heated discussions with Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft about the legislation. The White House and Justice Department were pressuring Leahey and Daschle for it to pass with essentially no debate.
While tensions mount in the US, the same day, another anthrax scare happens thousands of miles away.
The AP reports “An anthrax scare in Israel on Wednesday prompted the evacuation of its parliament building, the Knesset…The Israeli opposition leader and a fellow colleague received letters containing an unidentified white powder…Both Knesset members, accompanied by their assistants, were immediately taken to hospital, where they were treated for possible anthrax infection.”
In Japan, a letter containing white powder suspected to be anthrax arrives at a US consulate in Osaka, local media also reports that a letter containing white powder was also sent to some TV stations, a military headquarters building and to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s office.
Across town Dan Rather comments on the anthrax situation at CBS. A letter is not found, but the FBI confirms that anthrax spores are detected in his office.
All over the globe, bioterror hysteria continues, spreading to Kenya and China.
AP Reports that “The Kenyan Health Ministry says white powder in a letter mailed from the United States to a Kenyan businessman has tested positive for anthrax spores.”
“The Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesman did not say which city the suspicious letters were sent to or which U-S company received the mail. But he did say that the suspicious materials were contained in Falun Gong propaganda files.”
Mid afternoon, back in DC, FBI director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and attorney general John Ashcroft discuss the current state of the anthrax investigation, which they now describe as terrorism.
After the press conference, a specialized alarm that detects chemical and biological agents went off in the oval office, according to a book by Jane Mayer. Cheney believes he is infected with anthrax, and that this was a direct assassination attempt on his life. This incident has not been confirmed outside of Mayer’s book ‘The Dark Side’.
Perhaps the most pernicious piece of Iraq war propaganda was uttered by Senator John McCain on the Late Show with David Letterman, when discussing the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. After telling Letterman the ‘second stage might be Iraq’, McCain continued unprompted: “There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.” The American public was never privy to who was the source of this innuendo, but by all accounts, the information was being seeded into the public consciousness by somebody who had a bone to pick with Iraq.
ABBY : The next day, on October 19th, 2001: The third anthrax laced letter arrives at the New York Post. It had no return address. The contents of the letter read:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENICILLIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT ”
Luckily for employees, there were no known infections among them. Unlike ABC, NBC, the Capitol and Senate building, whatever damage was done by opening this particular letter appeared undetectable. Was the anthrax in this letter the same ‘weaponized’ form found in the others?
The New York Post, like the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal, employed several PNAC members as writers. All three outlets would continue to put out disinformation linking Saddam Hussein and Iraq to the ongoing anthrax mailings.
Leroy Richmond, is the first of the four Brentwood postal workers with symptoms serious enough to seek medical attention. Later that day he checks into a hospital, accompanied by his wife Susan, in Woodbridge, Virginia. His condition alarmed the intern on staff, specifically the pain he felt on the back of his neck, and he’s told to go to the nearest emergency room. Susan books it down Route 295 and arrives at Inova Fairfax Hospital. After sitting in the waiting room for over four hours, Dr. Cecile Murphy appeared. After a quick examination, Murphy didn’t notice any obvious symptoms, but Richmond stressed he ‘knew his body’ and that something was wrong. Richmond’s workplace, the Brentwood post office, came up in discussion. Dr. Murphy had heard about the anthrax letters in the news, but the possibility him being infected didn’t seriously cross her mind. Since the x-ray didn’t show anything noteworthy, she orders a CAT scan of his chest. As Murphy runs more tests, Richmond’s condition worsens. He is developing a fever. After she finds blood in his urine, Dr. Murphy has a hunch. She starts giving Richmond intravenous Cipro. Her quick thinking and intuition saved Richmond’s life. That evening, the CAT scan confirms her worst fears, blood in the lymph nodes. She relays the bad news “Mr. Richmond, your CT shows swollen lymph nodes in your chest, that could mean anthrax.”
However, US postal workers haven’t been told to start taking Cipro, even after AP runs story alleging that Americans are frantically going to Mexico to buy Cipro over the counter, out of fear of anthrax infection.
Around this time, the CDC releases a video called “A Clinician’s guide to Anthrax” featuring CGI graphics, synthesizer music, and a panel of CDC experts discussing what to do in case of emergency or exposure.
That evening, Diane Sawyer reports the US government is preparing the public for potential biological or anthrax attacks, and has a guest demonstrate how to wear protective gloves while opening the mail.
ROBBIE : Early in the AM on October 20th, 2001: at 1AM, Leroy Richmond is admitted to the intensive care unit of Fairfax hospital.
A few hours later, back in DC, anthrax is detected in the Congressional mailroom during a sweep. The full extent of how far the anthrax spread from the Daschle letter wasn’t known yet, but at this point it was clear anthrax might have spread to multiple unforeseen locations. There was virtually no way to know when and where it would show up next.
At this point, it is clear the Bush administration is using the attacks to its full advantage. George W. Bush releases an entire radio address about the anthrax mailings the same morning, tying them to the 9/11 attacks.
Later that afternoon, to his surprise, Leroy Richmond is officially diagnosed with anthrax. Until he strongly believed he just had pneumonia.
Around 3pm, Richmond’s co-worker Qieth McQue admits himself to the same Kaiser hospital as LeRoy. When McQue answers ‘Brentwood’ after a series of questions, he is immediately seen. Dr. Susan Matcha already happened to be treating Leroy, the other postal worker anthrax victim. Because of her immediate suspicious she puts McQue on intravenous Cipro treatments but doesn’t yet tell him she thinks he has anthrax infection.
In Clinton, Maryland, another Brentwood postal worker, Joseph Curseen Jr and his wife Celeste are attending evening mass at St. John’s Evangelist Catholic Church. Joseph collapses during the procession.
ABBY : Early the next morning, on October 21st 2001: Brentwood postal worker Qieth McQue gets a visit from Dr. Susan Matcha with shocking news.
“Do you know what anthrax is” she asks.
“Hell no” he answered.
“Do you want to hear the good news first, or the bad news?”
“Let me hear the bad news first” he said
“You have inhaled anthrax spores. It’s a fatal disease. But we think we got it in time”
It is now being widely reported that two Brentwood postal workers are infected with anthrax, but their names have not been disclosed. Even though the Bush administration was warned to start taking Cipro as early as 9/11/2001, postal workers were still not given a warning to get on Cipro by management or any government agency.
It is now that we arrive at the tragic tale of Thomas Morris Jr, the fourth postal worker to get sick in this story. Morris Jr wakes up the same morning feeling very ill, finding it difficult to breathe. Having already visited a doctor suspecting anthrax infection two days prior, Morris put the timeline together in his head–how he got it, when, and where. His breathing becomes so shallow he calls 9-11 at around 2pm.
Morris arrives at Greater South Hospital in Washington, DC at around 3pm. Less than six hours later, at 8:45pm, he is declared dead. 55 year old Thomas Morris Jr. officially becomes the third anthrax fatality in the string of deadly attacks.
AP reports that Postal workers at the Brentwood facility are now ordered to be tested for anthrax exposure.
Not far away in Maryland, Joseph Curseen, was feeling even worse than he did the night before after fainting at church— tired, nauseated, and perspiring beads of sweat his wife Celeste described were “as big as half dollars.” She drives him to the hospital but doctors reassure him he’s only suffering from dehydration and gastrointestinal problems and he is sent home.
That evening, echoing statements by John McCain, Senator Joe Lieberman, on Meet the Press says “The stuff that is being sent out, most of it, including the stuff that went to Tom Daschle’s office, is significantly refined anthrax… So it says to me that there’s either a significant amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program.”
The subtext was that Iraq or Al Qaeda, or possibly the two working together, were behind the anthrax mailings.
ROBBIE : October 22nd, 2001: Around 9am, Celeste Curseen, the wife of Brentwood postal worker Joseph Curseen, calls 9-11 from their home in Clinton, Maryland. She explains to the operator that just a day earlier she took her husband to the hospital, but doctors brushed off his symptoms. Things have gotten much worse since.
The 9-11 transcript is as follows:
“He’s breathing just constantly. He’s got asthma, and he’s just constantly breathing hard and fast.” Celeste said.
“How long was it that he, um—?” the operator asked.
“I don’t know. I fell asleep. I was asleep and I just looked up and he was laying out in the bathroom there.”
“Is he able to talk to you normally?”
“No. He’s breathing so hard. Sometimes he won’t say anything for a period of time. But yes, he’s talking.”
“OK. Is he able to, say, talk in a complete sentence?”
“No, he’s just been answering my questions.”
Celeste practically drags Joseph to the car and takes him back to the hospital. Once they arrive, Dr. Venkat Mani, the hospital’s head of infectious diseases, asks to look at Joseph’s test results. Once he looks at Curseen’s blood under a microscope he immediately knows it’s late stage anthrax infection, with low chance of recovery. Dr. Venkat was later quoted as saying:
“There were so many organisms on the smear, that we could directly see it. When you have a person with blood infection, and you see the bacteria on the blood smear, the patient will almost never survive. By that stage the bacteria [are] winning the battle.”
Six hours after being brought to the hospital, 47 year old Joseph Curseen Jr, is the second postal worker from Brentwood in DC to die from inhalation anthrax. The anthrax attacks have now claimed their third victim.
On the morning of October 23rd, 2001: Tariq Aziz, Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister sits down for an interview with AP and staunchly denies Iraq having any ties to the anthrax attacks.
Back in DC, anthrax is reportedly found in the White House mail system, not in the White House itself but at an off-site location.
Later in Miami, Florida, Ernesto Blanco, the first anthrax victim to be treated, finally recovers and leaves the hospital. His family leaves angry and confused that the CDC refused to diagnose him with anthrax while he was fighting for his life. Blanco’s family suspects the government has political reasons for keeping his diagnosis secret.
That evening from the White House, Bush makes a vague statement seemingly linking 9/11 with anthrax, and Al Qaeda to the attacks.
At an event the next morning, on October 24th, 2001, Robert Mueller and the US postal chief speak on the anthrax attacks. Mueller, ultimately in charge of the FBI investigation, stresses it’s too earlyto draw any conclusions.
A little later, a few miles away at the White House, Ari Fleischer says the FBI is now focusing on labs around the US, but doesn’t mention whether they are government or private facilities.
Later that afternoon, in Glen Burnie, Maryland, Bush brings up the anthrax attacks during a walking tour of a Packaging factory.
AP reports “Referring to the recent mailings of anthrax, Bush said the September 11th attack launched on the US is still continuing.”
Bush again implies the anthrax mailings are the second stage of the 9/11 attacks. That evening, the controversial 342 page long USA Patriot act passes the House.
ABBY : The next morning, on October 25, 2001: A Guardian editorial by Matthew Engel comments on the schizophrenic attitude of the Bush administration in regards to the anthrax attacks.
Engel says: “Those in charge have compounded the problems by sending out confused messages. Was the anthrax weapons-grade or not? Should Americans be alarmed or relaxed? Has President Bush himself been tested? The signals keep changing. Mr Thompson suggested early on that Bob Stevens, the first anthrax victim, might have drunk from an infected stream.”
Later in the afternoon, David Hose, who works at the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Virginia, is hospitalized with anthrax infection.
The same evening, Homeland Security head Tom Ridge lets the public know some important, but revealing details about the attacks, by describing to the press that the anthrax spores found in Tom Daschle’s letter were breathable AKA weaponized. This is an indication that a government with a sophisticated bioweapons program produced the material. It is at this point that the FBI knows internally that the anthrax strain found in the letters is the US-made Ames strain. Yet Tom Ridge, Mueller and Bush continue to act coy about its origins.
Across town, the USA PATRIOT passes the Senate. The only senator to cast a no-vote was Russ Feingold. While he was not directly targeted with anthrax with a letter, his staffers did get infected.
October 26th, 2001: After very little protest, the infamous Patriot Act is signed into law by President Bush after being rushed through the house and senate, while the senate building is closed for decontamination. Lahey and Daschle were the most vocal Senators asking for more time to deliberate the bill. In a strange twist, those who stood in the way of a quick passage of the patriot act were directly targeted with anthrax letters, less than two weeks apart. Whoever sent them intended for them to arrive at the same time, but the letter sent to Leahey got lost in the mail, rerouted and delayed.
There was virtually no press coverage of the inner conflict preventing the fast track of the Patriot Act, so if it was a suspected motivation behind the targeting of senators, the killer likely didn’t hear about it on the news.
Upon signing the Patriot Act, George W. Bush said: “Current statues deal more severely with drug traffickers than terrorists. That changes today. We are enacting new and harsh penalties for biological weapons.”
Bush also mentions how the two postal workers who died were heros who served in the line of duty, yet his administration, nor the CDC, did not instructed postal workers to take Cipro when it could have saved their lives.
ROBBIE : That same day, another anthrax scare hits a US government facility, this time at the CIA. AP reports that: “Trace amounts of the bacteria were found in a mailroom at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency.
A CIA official, who did not wish to be identified, said the amount of anthrax detected was “medically insignificant”, but added that the main CIA building would be closed on Friday for further testing.”
While anthrax hysteria continues to build, a story in the Telegraph from the same day slips through the cracks. Former CIA director and PNAC member James Woolsey is reported to be working for Paul Wolfowitz as a ‘private citizen’
The Telegraph says: “James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, ambassador and Pentagon official who now describes himself as a ‘private citizen’, is the man entrusted with investigating Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks and anthrax outbreaks.”
“Administration sources have said his trip was funded and approved by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary. Such is the sensitivity of the Iraq issue, Mr Woolsey will make no comment about the exact nature of his brief. He told The Telegraph: ‘I was in London and that’s it.”
That evening, ABC runs the first of several programs alleging several high-placed sources at Fort Detrick, Maryland and elsewhere have told them the anthrax samples contained bentonite. ABC’s Brian Ross claims this implicates Saddam Hussein’s biological warfare program, as bentonite is allegedly a trademark of their anthrax manufacturing process. ABC continues running these reports for the next three days, until October 29th.
The next morning of October 27th 2001: then-freshman congressman, now-vice president Mike Pence, who once hosted an AM talk show describing himself as ‘Rush Limbaugh on decaf’ conducts a press conference outside the Capitol proclaiming revenge and biblical style justice to whoever conducted the anthrax attacks. His family–with news cameras in tow–gets tested for anthrax at the hospital after it is allegedly found in his office.
No news outlets questioned his grandstanding or odd performance of going to the hospital with his family, and unlike senators Daschle and Leahy in their press appearances, Mike Pence alluded to to the anthrax letters being connected to the larger ‘war on terror.’
Across town from Pence’s strange press conference, there is a funeral service being held for Joseph Curseen Jr, the second Brentwood postal worker to die from anthrax. A caravan of USPS trucks follow the funeral procession.
The next morning October 28th, 2001. At a press conference, seemingly anticipating something akin to a pandemic, a US federal health official says the government could have enough anthrax vaccines for everyone in the country, within 6 to 12 months.
The Weekly Standard, founded by PNAC neocon Bill Kristol, publish two editorials pushing for the Iraq war the next day, October 29th. One of them is written by Bill Kristol & Robert Kagan called ‘The Gathering Storm’. It links Saddam Hussein to not just the 9/11 attacks, but also to the anthrax mailings. Another editorial written by PNAC director Gary Schmitt, is titled ‘Why Iraq?’ It also attempts to link Saddam to the attacks. Even though there was absolutely no evidence linking the two, Kristol’s Weekly Standard made this a recurring theme for months to come.
ABBY : In New York City, a 61-year-old Vietnamese hospital employee named Kathy Nguyen suddenly started to feel short of breath. She ran into her landlord Dave Cruz, in the courtyard of their Bronx apartment. She was frantic. “It hurts to breathe”, she gasped. He immediately drove her to the hospital she worked at. Before she left, she tried to pay him in advance for rent “in case the hospital stay was long”. That’s just the kind of person she was. She stayed under intensive care for the next 48 hours, with her symptoms steadily worsening. Still, no one considered anthrax as the possible cause.
While Kathy lie in a New York hospital bed, under a cloak of secrecy in DC, Vice President Dick Cheney whisks himself away to a “secure and undisclosed location”. Some journalists at the time deduced he was taken to a secure bunker from the Truman or Eisenhower era, although to this day, nobody knows for sure. Cheney later discussed taking these precautions but didn’t explain why. It was only in Jane Mayer’s book that describes the smoke alarm incident as a possible assassination attempt with anthrax. It was a crucial and defining moment of the Bush presidency, as we’ll come to find out later.
In a different area of DC, what’s known as ‘think tank row’, Bush official and PNAC signatory Richard Perle, shares a panel with fellow PNACers James Woolsey and Michael Ledeen along with republicans Newt Gingrich and Israeli Knesset member, Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky. During the talk, they express excitement at the prospects of attacking Iraq over non existent evidence Saddam had a hand in 9/11 or the anthrax attacks. It’s such an egregious display, an audience member during the Q & A exclaims the anthrax attacks are so suspicious and convenient for the neocon war agenda, that he suspects they were actually carried out by a right wing neocon. He storms out in anger while Woolsey mutters that the man is probably part of a Lyndon LaRouche group.
Later that evening, NBC discusses the weaponized nature of the anthrax and reports that the Supreme Court is also being tested for anthrax, so the judges are trying cases in an alternate location.
October 30th, 2001: A month and a half after Pentagon OSP advisor Richard Perle said claimed terrorists would target water supplies, the White House officially warns bioterrorists could target US food supplies.
In an shocking display of self aggrandizement and fame whorism, Rudy Giuliani stages yet another press conference to discuss the ongoing anthrax attacks. He breaks the news of Kathy Nguyen testing positive for anthrax. At this point, the media doesn’t refer to her by name.
Published that day, AMI’s publication the National Enquirer, runs an entire print issue about the anthrax attacks, with a specific focus on their own headquarters being a target. The paper also points out the alarming ‘coincidence’ of Gloria Irish, wife of Sun editor Mike Iris, not only renting an apartment to two of the hijackers, but spending up to a week showing them property leading up the 9/11 attacks.
After two days of Kathy Nguyen being hospitalized, doctors finally suspect anthrax. But it was too late. Her lungs collapsed on the morning of October 31, 2001. Kathy’s friends remember her as a “classy lady” with impeccable style and a meticulous apartment. Despite living alone, Kathy maintained close relationships with her neighbors, who she often cooked for. Nguyen was also a dedicated public servant who worked at an ear, nose and throat hospital. Her only son died in a car crash eight years prior to Kathy’s death. The FBI has speculated that she must have come in contact with mail contaminated at one of the various mail sorting facilities that processed one of the anthrax letters, but It is still unknown exactly how she came into contact with anthrax spores. As we come to find out later, many of the specific anthrax incidents when taken individually were left unexplained even by the final conclusions of the investigation. No letters were ever found in the AMI building, ABC News, or CBS News, so where did that anthrax come from?
That same day President Bush explains why he issued a new terror alert.
ROBBIE : During this time, Cheney was making interrogation AKA torture policy in a secret bunker largely separated from the rest of the White House staff, including the president. From an article written by Mark Mooney for ABC in 2008 : “Cheney and other Cabinet members took turns hunkering down in one of several cold war era bunkers built to survive a nuclear attack. The bunkers, deep underground, were crammed with communications gear and Cheney would stay in what was dubbed the “The Commander in Chief’s Suite,” Mayer writes.
When the vice president wasn’t in the bunker, Mayer claims that “a sense of constant danger followed Cheney everywhere.” The route was altered daily during the veep’s commute to his above-ground office. On the back seat next to him would be a duffel bag stuffed with a gas mask and biochemical survival suit. And a doctor nearly always traveled with him, “The Dark Side” claims. The book suggests the shock of 9/11, coupled with his anthrax scare, changed Cheney, and made him an overpowering force in the administration arguing for significantly tougher interrogation tactics.
On CSPAN, PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan comments on Dick Cheney’s disappearance being ‘odd’ and again fear mongers about Iraq being linked to the 9/11 and anthrax attacks.
Nov 3rd, 2001: In the morning, President Bush says the anthrax letters represent a “second wave of terrorism” in a national radio address.
Saturday Night Live with Darrell Hammond airs a strange and offensive sketch mocking Dan Rather for having an employee of his test positive for anthrax.
Three days later, on Nov 6th, 2001: Bush says in a speech from the White House:
“The people of my Nation are now fighting this war at home. We face a second wave of terrorist attacks in the form of deadly anthrax that has been sent through the U.S. mail. Our people are responding to this new threat with alertness and calm. Our Government is responding to treat the sick, provide antibiotics to those who have been exposed, and track down the guilty, whether abroad or at home.”
The next day on Nov. 7, 2001: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge dismisses bentonite as a binding agent for the anthrax in the Daschle letter. He says the ingredient is actually silicon. This statement contradicts the leaks put out by anonymous US government officials to outlets like ABC claiming there was bentonite found in the anthrax, which was a trademark of Saddam Hussein.
Later that day, AP reports that post offices around the country close due to anthrax fears and and that postal employees continue to be tested.
Two days later on Nov 9th 2001: Qieth McQue, another Brentwood postal worker infected with anthrax is finally told he’s well enough to go home.
Five days after that, on Nov 14th, 2001: After spending 27 days in excruciating agony with his lungs swollen and filled with over two quarts of fluid, Brentwood postal worker Leroy Richmond’s condition has drastically improved, and he’s finally discharged from the hospital.
Two days later, on November 16 2001: The fourth anthrax letter is finally discovered. A letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy is found in the impounded mail at the State Department in Sterling, Virginia. It is allegedly lost, having supposed to arrive at the same time as the Daschle letter (based on the postmark). Upon arrival, the letter looks suspicious to staffers, who report it to capitol police. This would be the final anthrax letter discovered. All appearing to be written with the same handwriting, making similar statements.
The letter addressed to Patrick Leahy had the same return address as that sent to Daschle: 4th grade // Greendale School // Franklin Park, NJ
The contents of the letter read:
“YOU CAN NOT STOP US
WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX
YOU DIE NOW
ARE YOU AFRAID?
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT!”
ABBY : In Oxford, Connecticut, about 10 miles south of Waterbury, 94 year old Ottilie Lundgren, was being visited by her niece Shirley. Lundgren’s husband died 25 years earlier and Ottilie lived alone since. Shirley visited her regularly, but on this particular visit she was worried about her aunt, who was being stubborn about seeing a doctor while clearly sick. Ottilie finally relented, and Shirley drove her to Griffin hospital in nearby Derby.
When she arrived, doctors didn’t feel her condition was alarming, because she only exhibited signs of a low-grade fever, and dehydration. But due to her age, they let her stay. While there Ottilie laughed and joked with the doctors and staff, seemingly in good spirits. Initial blood and urine tests suggested a typical urinary tract infection.
The next morning on Nov 17th 2001: at Griffin hospital in Derby, Connecticut, Dr. Lydia Barakat, one of the hospital’s infectious disease specialists assessed a bacteria culture test from 94 year old Lundgren. She thought it was a clostridium bacteria, not uncommon in elderly people. She ordered Lundgren on oral Cipro and intravenous amp-ic-illin. Still a nagging sense that what Barakat noticed under the microscope, rod like formations consistent with anthrax, stuck in the back of her mind. On a hunch she decided to ask Lundgren if she received any mail or letters with powder in it. But she said no, and the theory was put to rest.
That same day AP distributes video packages about the Leahy Anthrax letter intercutting footage of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda with closeups of microscopic anthrax and hazmat teams cleaning up contaminated sites. Even though there is no evidence connecting Al Qaeda to the anthrax attacks, this edited together footage is reused by hundreds of news agencies around the country.
Only 24 hours later on Nov 18th 2001: 94-year old Ottilie Lundgren is lying in a hospital bed feeling short of breath. Chest x-rays and other tests show possible fluid buildup in her lungs.
The next day Nov 19th 2001: PNAC director and Bush’s UN ambassador, John Bolton, goes to the 5th Biological Weapons Convention RevCon Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland and says in a speech:
“Beyond Al-Qaeda the most serious concern is Iraq. Iraq’s biological weapons program remains a serious threat to international security.”
“The United States believes that North Korea has a dedicated national effort to achieve a BW capability and that it has developed and produced and may have weaponized BW agents in violation of the convention.”
Back in Connecticut, more tests are run on Lundgren. Dr. Barakat now knows for sure it’s a form of bacillus. With the help of Dr. Howard Quentzel, who was part of the team that treated Kathy Nyugen two weeks earlier, tries to prove that what they’re actually looking at is anthrax. They are still hesitant to go public with their findings, thinking to themselves ‘how could an old woman in connecticut, who lives by herself, get infected with anthrax?’
Regardless, they move forward with their findings the next day, on Nov 20th, 2001: and Lundgren is officially diagnosed with anthrax.
Sadly, the doctors were too late. On Nov. 21, 2001: 94 year old Ottilie Lundgren becomes the fifth person to die from inhalation anthrax.
Two days later, on Nov 23rd, 2001: The investigation into her death begins.
This brings us to the end of Part 1 of Schrodinger’s Super Patriot: The 2001 Anthrax Mystery. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our investigative podcast.
Produced/Mixed/Edited/Created by | Robbie Martin
Written by | Robbie & Abby Martin
Script Edits & Revisions by | Abby Martin
Music by | Fluorescent Grey
Top Photo | Robbie Martin