October 6, 2001. Across America, people were opening their newspapers to read about Bush's impending war in Afghanistan, or maybe another article about the September 11 terrorist attacks. Chances are, most only gave the following article a brief glance:
Florida Man Dies of Rare Form of Anthrax
A 63-year-old Florida man who had been hospitalized with pulmonary anthrax on Tuesday died today, state health officials said.
Of course, in light of the September 11 attacks, the word "terrorism" was whispered, but public health officials firmly stated that did not yet know how the man had contracted the disease.
A New York City Emergency Service police officer inspects a mailbox on New York's Fifth Avenue, yesterday. (October 17, 2001) -- AP photo
However, by October 9, the FBI had taken over the case, which was now making front page news; by October 11, three people had died in Florida. On October 13, the news broke that an NBC employee in New York had contracted anthrax:
Anthrax case confirmed in New York
An NBC employee in New York today tested positive for anthrax, following tests at the offices of the TV network after mail containing a suspicious powder was received.
The anthrax was not the inhaled form of the disease, which killed a Florida man a week ago. The female NBC employee has the skin form of the disease and is expected to recover, the network said.
With the US Capitol in the background, members of the US Marine Corps' chemical-biological incident response force demonstrate anthrax clean-up techniques... — AP photo
Three days later, headlines across the nation announced:
Anthrax threat comes to Congress
New security precautions and a swelling unease swept the U.S. Capitol and much of the nation yesterday after a letter testing positive for anthrax was opened in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The discovery of a letter containing a powdery substance and a Trenton, N.J., postmark brought the reality of terrorism literally to Congress' desktop in the most direct way since the attack Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It caused officials to redouble efforts to secure the buildings and people on Capitol Hill and to search for a common thread.
Until 2001, there had only been 18 fatal cases of pulmonary anthrax in the US in the past 100 years; the 10 fatal cases in 2001 were the first in US history caused by an intentional release of anthrax. Eventually, public health officials were able to determine that seven anthrax-laden letters were were mailed; four were opened.
Americans waited on the edge of their seats for the FBI to announce that they’d caught the culprit (or culprits). Publicly, it looks like they hit some rough spots early on; investigators argued about the possible source of the anthrax: who might have formulated the weapon? Was it "weaponized"? Military grade? Were the perpetrator(s) former US military lab researcher(s), or maybe just researcher(s) in a civilian lab? (The Bush administration immediately tried to pin it on Saddam, of course.)
In any case, it was agreed that the anthrax was "energetic", and "professionally done", became airborne easily, and was therefore readily inhaled and effective as a weapon.
Five years (and many conspiracy theories) later, the feds gave their last update. They said that they're still on the case, and that it has high priority.
However, yesterday Fox News claims to have obtained an email exchanged between US Army scientists regarding "about four" possible suspects:
The FBI has narrowed its focus to "about four" suspects in the 6 1/2-year investigation of the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001, and at least three of those suspects are linked to the Army’s bioweapons research facility at Fort Detrick in Maryland, FOX News has learned.
Among the pool of suspects are three scientists — a former deputy commander, a leading anthrax scientist and a microbiologist — linked to the research facility, known as USAMRIID.
The FBI has collected writing samples from the three scientists in an effort to match them to the writer of anthrax-laced letters that were mailed to two U.S. senators and at least two news outlets in the fall of 2001, a law enforcement source confirmed.
.. in an e-mail obtained by FOX News, scientists at Fort Detrick openly discussed how the anthrax powder they were asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues.
"Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared ... to duplicate the letter material," the e-mail reads. "Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same ... his knees got shaky and he sputtered, 'But I told the General we didn't make spore powder!'"
This is not news. In my opinion, it's only slightly more specific than any previous knowledge gained from the investigation, which has been plagued with problems and scientific disagreements from the beginning. And, even though the FBI publicly chose to focus on one "person of interest", it has been implied that there were multiple suspects since the beginning of the investigation, as Richard Preston describes in his book The Demon in the Freezer.
Preston quotes a conversation he had with a forensic microbiologist who is also a former FBI agent:
We just don't know who these perpetrators are, and it could be years before we get a break... I personally find it hard to believe that it was done by only one person. That's just gut. I don't know why, I can't put my finger on it.
Fox may think they have a scoop, but their article (and most likely the email) is essentially a re-hash of old speculation, and is only slightly more specific than the musings of Preston's source.
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