Have you forgotten? Five years ago today, someone–still unknown–sent letters laced with anthrax to the NYPost and NBC News. Two more letters, postmarked October 9, 2001, were sent to Sens. Tom Daschle and Pat Leahy with even more refined (“weaponized”) anthrax:
The CDC mapped the mail flow of anthrax letters, which included several more inferred from infection patterns uncovered by investigators:
In all 22 people were infected. Five were killed:
* Bob Stevens, 63, picture editor of the Sun newspaper, died on 5 October in Boca Raton, Florida. Anthrax spores were found on his computer keyboard
* Thomas Morris Jr, 55, Washington, worked at the Brentwood office which handled an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle
* Joseph Curseen, 47, worked at the same office
* Kathy Nguyen, 61, worked in a New York hospital
* Ottilie Lundgren, 94, lived in a rural community in Connecticut. Her case and that of Ms Nguyen are the only ones that have not been traced to tainted mail
Joseph Farah remembers some pertinent details:
ABC News reported in October and November 2001 that at least five experts had identified a substance called bentonite that was used to upgrade the anthrax found in the letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle’s Washington office. ABC’s experts, as well as former U.N. inspectors that worked in Iraq, claimed that bentonite “was a trademark of the Iraqi germ warfare program.”
ABC wasn’t the only news agency that reported the bentonite discovery. The Wall Street Journal also claimed it was detected in the anthrax mailings that nearly paralyzed the country. Another clue is a little-known piece of evidence – a report by Dr. Christos Tsonas at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who treated Ahmed al-Haznawi, one of the 9/11 hijackers for a lesion that he thought “was consistent with cutaneous anthrax.”
The way the FBI handled the story of Tsonas’ encounter with al-Haznawi, which was related to the agency in several interviews, appears perplexing, as does its handling of another related incident examined below. A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital said in response to a request for information about the incident, “We cooperated with the FBI and other authorities. At their request, we will not discuss the matter. … We have nothing to say.”
A team of microbiologists and weapons-grade anthrax experts interviewed Tsonas and investigated the report. They concluded her diagnosis made sound medical sense and said it “raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks.” That hijacker, by the way, lived near the headquarters of American Media International in Boca Raton, Fla. It was that company’s photo editor, Robert Stevens, who became the first fatality in the anthrax letter attacks.
Then there is the report of pharmacist Gregg Chatterton in Delray Beach, Fla. He told investigators that two of the 9/11 hijackers came into his store, Huber Drugs, looking for medication to treat irritations on Mohamed Atta’s hands. Chatterton, whose pharmacy is not far from American Media International’s headquarters, recalled that Atta said, “My hands – my hands burn; they are itching.”
I remember NPR using the anthrax attacks to smear a conservative Christian group, the Traditional Values Coalition, by recklessly implying it was under investigation as a a suspect.
I remember the limp, ineffectual handling of the attacks by top public health bureaucrats.
And I remember the spirited response of then-NYPost editorial assistant Johanna Huden, one of the infected anthrax survivors: