Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Message in the Anthrax

Thanks to a comment, I just reread Don Foster's The Message in the Anthrax, published in Vanity Fair and Reader's Digest in 2003. This is a must-read if you want to understand the universe of evidence that has accrued in this case. Foster discusses the hoax letters; the Assaad story (by Laura Rozen); how the FBI ignored or misinterpreted evidence; the makeup of the powder; and the circumstantial case against Hatfill. He reminds us that there were at least 7 letters sent, based on who came down with anthrax, though only four were recovered. (Which brings new questions to mind: what forensic studies were done on the anthrax collected from the sites at which no letter was recovered? What motives have been proposed for attacking these other offices?)

It will give you plenty to chew on.


Anonymous said...

I've posted a New York Times story from 2002 on several websites this week that
to me screams further attention. The article has always stuck with me, mostly
because I always thought it was strange that it didn't get a lot of attention
back then. The article is titled, "A NATION CHALLENGED: BIOTERRORISM; Report
Linking Anthrax and Hijackers Is Investigated," dated March 23, 2002.

Here's the link:

After the Bureau pinned the anthrax mailings on Dr. Ivins, and after hearing the
evidence against him, I had to think back to this story from 2002. My belief is
that it is possible that the hijackers did in fact have something to do with
this release of anthrax in the mail. Yes, the mailings began AFTER 9/11, which
would obviously rule out any of the 19 hijackers from actually placing the
envelopes in the mail. That said, it is not out of the realm of possibility
that they had accomplices who mailed the letters for them. We know for a fact that the hijackers had help inside the
United States before 9/11, including several Saudi's (Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama
Bassnan, to name two). This part of the article is quite intriguing:

"Dr. Tsonas's comments add to a tantalizing array of circumstantial evidence.
Some of the hijackers, including Mr. Alhaznawi, lived and attended flight school
near American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., where the first victim of the
anthrax attacks worked. Some of the hijackers also rented apartments from a real
estate agent who was the wife of an editor of The Sun, a publication of American

In addition, in October, a pharmacist in Delray Beach, Fla., said he had told
the F.B.I. that two of the hijackers, Mohamad Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, came
into the pharmacy looking for something to treat irritations on Mr. Atta's

Let's say this was indeed accurate. The next logical question would be, "why
aren't the feds looking into it?" It has been an official gov't position that the 19 hijackers did not have assistance leading up to 9/11. If the
gov't said that the hijackers were working with people involved in the anthrax
mailings, it would be admitting that this position was false. The ramifications
of this admission would be huge, to say the least.

I just wanted to bring this to your attention during this discussion.

Washingtons Blog said...

Dr. Nass,

I didn't know Dr. Ivins, and I don't know anyone in his family.

However, I would respectfully point out that anyone who did know him or does know his family should consider recommending that the family sue to clear his name (and obtain damages).

daedalus2u said...

anon 6:08 the problem with the hypothesis that the anthrax attack was connected to 9/11 is that who ever did the anthrax attack didn't want to kill anyone. They specifically warned to take antibiotics that the anthrax was succeptible to. What kind of terrorists warn their victims to take measures that will be 100% effective at preventing injury?

Not the same terrorists who did 9/11.

Anonymous said...

NPR had an article which quotes Ivin's brother, Charles.
"His friends say Bruce didn't feel guilty so much as under siege. There has been talk of legal action against the FBI or the Justice Department. Charles said he can't speak for Bruce's wife, but he has no intention to sue." So it appears that this option is at least being considered by the family. His daughter said she would have something to say, but not without a lawyer at her side. So I'm sure after a period of grieving we will be hearing from the family.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the response. I may not have understood your response, so if you could clarify, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

Perhaps I don't understand the antibiotics part of this whole equation (can someone please explain a bit more?). At the very least, this story does merit some further examination. If we don't accept the FBI's conclusions regarding Dr. Ivins, why should we accept their conclusions in this case?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting in that link also, how compelling a case against Steven Hatfill *seemed* at the time ... To c.f. to the Ivins case.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, Don Foster has been discredited re some of his work.

Anonymous said...

daedalus2u said...

anon 7:58 Anthrax spores take some time to sprout and then grow enough to start producing the toxin that kills the host. Once you start to develop symptoms of anthrax infection from inhaled anthrax, it is too late because there are already too many and they are growing exponentially, doubling every division time which can be as short as an hour. How ever many you have, an hour later you have twice as many, then 4 times, then 8, then 16.

4 hours after your first symptoms you have 16 times as many bacteria producing 16 times more toxin than what gave you symptoms in the first place. In 8 hours it is 250 times more. It takes time to get antibiotic levels up enough to get the anthrax to stop producing toxin.

By then they have already produced too much toxin. It usually takes a couple of weeks for that to happen from time of exposure to time of developing symptoms (but that is highly variable). If you start taking antibiotics that the anthrax is susceptible to, the anthrax dies as soon as the spore sprouts and an infection never happens. It can take a long time for all of the spores to sprout, so you have to take antibiotics until you are sure they have all sprouted and been killed by the antibiotics. Usually that is something like 60 days.

If you start treatment early enough with antibiotics the anthrax is susceptible to, anthrax is essentially 100% treatable with the major side effects being from the antibiotics not the anthrax.

The warning letters that accompanied the anthrax sent to the media outlets had warnings to take an antibiotic that the anthrax the letters had in it was susceptible to. If the first person who opened the letter had done so, they would not have died. The people in Daschle's office had enormous exposure that was documented with nasal swabs. They took antibiotics and none of them got sick.

The terrorists who did 9/11 would never have warned their victims to take antibiotics. If they had access to anthrax they would have used it in a way that would have killed as many victims as possible and with no warning.

Anonymous said...

The selection of media targets is quite logical if you assume the goal was maximum publicity.

As for why the two particular Senators were targeted, that is anyone's guess. Maybe no reason.

Unknown said...

For more on the discrediting of Donald Foster, check out this recent blog post from Ron Rosenbaum:

Of course this doesn't mean that there can't by anything of value in the Vanity Fair piece. I would just be very nervous in choosing what to trust.

Meryl Nass, M.D. said...

Foster was sued by Hatfill. I don't know the details. But I do know that everything in the article about which I have independent information is true.

Furthermore, since I was mentioned in the article, I was called by the magazine prior to publication, which performed detailed fact-checking. So unless someone points out specific errors in Foster's massive missive, I am accepting its veracity.

Meryl Nass, MD

Anonymous said...

BBC news also had the Foster angle
(Aug 18 '02; URL of the article is in my signature). But it makes me wonder, who are the "two scientists" who were apparently living/working in NJ circa 9/11 ??

"Prof Foster also says the killer
seems to have tried implicating
two former USAMRIID scientists who
had left the laboratory in unhappy
circumstances by posting the
letters from near their homes in
New Jersey.

"He says only someone in contact
with a senior insider at USAMRIID
would have known how the two
scientists left the lab and that
they would then be likely targets
for the FBI investigation.