Review of Fall 2001 Anthrax Bioattacks

(under construction)

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 28 September 2007


From mid-September to November 2001, a number of anthrax-laced letters were mailed to news media offices on the U.S. east coast and to the U.S. Congress. A total of 22 individuals contracted either cutaneous anthrax (11 cases) or inhalational anthrax (11 cases), and 5 died (all from inhalational anthrax). Anthrax cases included individuals at targeted locations (9 cases), postal service employees (9 cases), individuals who handled cross-contaminated mail (2 cases), and individuals with unpinpointed exposures (2 cases). An additional case of cutaneous anthrax occurred in March 2002 due to laboratory exposure to collected samples.

The anthrax employed in the letters was a common genetic strain and had been treated to maximize its tendency to aerosolize. The genetic strain as well as the method of weaponization suggest the perpetrator(s) had access to U.S. bioweapons research facilities. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) remains unidentified, although the investigation came to focus on a domestic source.


Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by Bacillus anthracis. Three forms of exposure exist--cutaneous (skin exposure), gastrointestinal (entering through the digestive system), and inhalation. Naturally occurring anthrax is generally contracted from infected livestock. Most modern natural cases of anthrax are cutaneous. Inhalational anthrax has a higher case-fatality rate than the other two forms. Given the relatively low LD-50 and the persistence of anthrax in the environment in the form of inert spores, anthrax has been weaponized by several national bioweapons programs.

Most nations ceased offensive bioweapons research in accordance with the Biological Weapons Convention treaty. The United States ceased its programs in 1970, but continued research for defensive purposes. The Soviet Union continued a large-scale biowarfare program. In April 1979 an accidental leak from a Soviet bioweapons production facility in the city of Sverdlovsk, Russia, resulted in an anthrax outbreak which caused at least 68 deaths (some reports suggest about 100 fatalities among 250 to 450 cases). In 1995 Iraq admitted to research and production of weaponized anthrax. Aum Shinrikyo, a group which conducted terrorist attacks using sarin nerve gas in Tokyo in 1995, had engaged in research and attempted use of anthrax but was apparently unsuccessful.

In the United States, anthrax is currently a rare disease. Prior to 2001, the last case of inhalational anthrax in the United States was in 1976.

Cases: (incomplete)

Cases are discussed in groups by known or presumed exposure site, followed by table 1 listing all cases.

Table 1: Cases of anthrax associated with fall 2001 bioterrorism

case #
name *onsetlab diagnosisagesexracetypeexposure siteletterstatus
1J. Huden9/22/0110/19/0131FwhiteCNY Post, New York City, NY5
2E. O'Conner9/25/0110/12/0138FwhiteCNBC, New York City, NY2
3R. Morgano9/26/0110/18/0139MwhiteC? (USPS, Hamilton, New Jersey)?
4E. Blanco9/28/0110/15/0173MhispanicIAMI, West Palm Beach, FL1
5T. Heller9/28/0110/18/0145FwhiteCUSPS, Hamilton, NJ1//5-C
6C. Chamberlain9/28/0110/12/0123FwhiteCNBC, New York City, NY2
7anonymous9/29/0110/15/010.6MwhiteCABC, New York City, NY3
8Robert Stevens9/30/0110/4/0163MwhiteIAMI, West Palm Beach, FL1died 10/5/01
9C. Fletcher10/1/0110/18/0127FwhiteCCBS, New York City, NY4
10P. O'Donnell10/14/0110/19/0135MwhiteCUSPS, Hamilton, NJ6/7-C
11N. Wallace10/14/0110/28/0156FblackIUSPS, Hamilton, NJ6/7-C
12J. Patel10/15/0110/29/0143FAsianIUSPS, Hamilton, NJ6/7-C
13L. Richmond10/16/0110/21/0156MblackIUSPS Brentwood, Washington, DC6-C
14Thomas Morris, Jr.10/16/0110/23/0155MblackIUSPS Brentwood, Washington, DC6-Cdied 10/22/01
15Joseph Curseen10/16/0110/26/0147MblackIUSPS Brentwood, Washington, DC6-Cdied 10/22/01
16anonymous10/16/0110/22/0156MblackIUSPS Brentwood, Washington, DC6-C
17L. Burch10/17/0110/29/0151FwhiteC? (New Jersey)?
18anonymous10/19/0110/22/0134MhispanicCNY Post, New York City, NY5
19D. Hose10/22/0110/25/0159MwhiteIState Dept., Alexandria, VA6-C
20M. Cunningham10/23/0110/28/0138MwhiteCNY Post, New York City, NY5
21Kathy Nguyen10/25/0110/30/0161FAsianI? (New York City, NY)?died 10/31/01
22Ottilie Lundgren11/14/0111/21/0194FwhiteI(residence, Oxford, CT)7-Cdied 11/21/01
23anonymous3/1/023/5/02?M?Claboratory (UTHSC?), Houston?, TX1//7-L

* Notes to table: several survivors have chosen not to be publicly identified; those survivors that have chosen to be publicly identified are listed here only by first initial and last name. Type of anthrax case is cutaneous (C) or inhalation (I). Number of letter of known or presumed exposure is identified in table 2; "-C" indicated cross-contamination, not direct exposure, from that letter. This table is based principally on Jernigan et al. (2001) (excepting names of individuals).

Source letters: (incomplete)

Only four letters used for the anthrax attacks were recovered by investigators. At least three additional letters are presumed based on sites where cases developed. Two known letters (and the three presumed letters) were mailed on 18 Sept. to news media offices in Florida (1) and New York City (4). Two known letters were mailed on 9 Oct. to the Washington, DC, offices of Senators Daschle and Leahy (the Leahy letter never reached its destination). The anthrax in the 9 Oct. letters was more readily aerosolized, with the result of multiple anthrax cases (some fatal) among postal employees.

Table 2: Known and presumed anthrax letters

letterdate maileddate recoveredtargetresulting cases (by CDC #)
19/18/01not recoveredAMI, FL4, 85
29/18/01(9/20/01)NBC, NY2, 6
39/18/01not recoveredABC, NY7
49/18/01not recoveredCBS, NY9
59/18/01(9/22/01)NY Post, NY1, 18, 20
610/9/0110/15/01Daschle, DC13, 14, 15, 1610, 11, 12
710/9/0111/16/01Leahy, DC19, 22
unknown3, 17, 21

Anthrax origin: (incomplete)

Perpetrator: (incomplete)

Other reports:

A letter to a doctor in a foreign country tested positive for anthrax. CDC genetic typing found that this anthrax was a different strain from those used in the domestic attacks. The CDC report only identifies the country as "Country B". This is probably the letter received by a doctor in Chile, carrying a Florida return address but postmarked from Switzerland. Based on the genetic typing this is not related to the U.S. attacks.

On 19 Oct. 2001 authorities had reported that a travel brochure received by a family in Buenos Aires, Argentina, tested positive for anthrax. The letter was mailed from Miami, FL. This may have later been proven false.

A number of additional letters were initially reported to contain anthrax, but were found not to contain anthrax after further testing. This includes: a letter to a Microsoft facility in Reno, NV, mailed from Malaysia; one to the New York Times building in New York City; one to a New York Times office in Brasilia, Brazil; one to a doctor in Nairobi, Kenya, mailed from Atlanta, GA.

Response: (incomplete)

The total cost of the anthrax bioattacks was certainly over $1 billion. Decontamination of the Senate office building, conducted by the EPA, cost $23 million. Decontamination of the Brentwood postal facility cost $130 million. Decontamination of the Hamilton postal facility was not completed until March 2005. Through 2002, the U.S. Postal Service had received $700 million in funding for decontamination of facilities, health care, and procurement of irradiation equipment for irradiating mail. Additional uncounted costs at local levels include cleanup and response to false alarms over "white powder" of household origin, and lost productivity associated with resultant work stoppages.


© 2001, 2005, 2007 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 28 September 2007.
Return to Home. Return to Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Unconventional Warfare.