Monday, March 09, 2015

October 2003, Vanity Fair, The Message in the Anthrax, by Don Foster,


October 2003 (posted 9/15/03) Vanity Fair, pp. 180-200, The Message in the Anthrax, by Don Foster,

After fingering Joe Klein for Primary Colors and helping snare the alleged Atlanta Olympics bomber, the author, a professor of English at Vassar, was asked to analyze the 2001 anthrax letters. Frustrated with the F.B.I.'s anthrax task force, he unseals his investigation of a most intriguing -- and disturbing -- suspect.

In the spring of 1998, an officer at the Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah, called the veteran biowarrior William C. Patrick III to ask for his help. The army wanted to convert some of its deadly anthrax into a dry powder, but, in Patrick's words, "didn't have a freeze-dryer, didn't have a spray dryer, no drying capability at all." The Soviets hadn't let the 1972 biological-and-toxin weapons convention stop them from producing 4,500 metric tons of anthrax per year. But when the Americans signed it, they put Bill Patrick out to pasture and then seemingly forgot the art, developed by Patrick in 1959, of weaponizing Bacillus anthraciswithout milling. Now Patrick had to re-educate the army's top microbiologists, showing them how to freeze-dry a slurry of anthrax simulant; how to purify it to a trillion spores per gram in a centrifuge; and how to remove the electrostatic charge, to prevent clumping. On one visit to Dugway, Patrick said he had employed the less sophisticated method of acetone extraction to produce a pound of dry anthrax in a single day -- enough to kill thousands of people. (Patrick now says that he misspoke when he claimed to have produced the pound of anthrax.)

For nearly two decades -- until Richard Nixon shut down America's offensive bioweapons program in 1969 -- Bill Patrick worked in secret government laboratories, designing and testing germ agents. His skull and- crossbones calling card describes him as a "Biological Warfare Consultant." An old-school warrior, Patrick, 77, looks like a big teddy bear, but he continually slips into talk of mass destruction. When lecturing on biodefense, he speaks of "beautiful bomblets" and of how many people the U.S. could kill in good weather with a dry bioweapons agent "especially in the Middle East."

On February 19, 1999, Patrick briefed two dozen officers at Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama, on his recent visits to Dugway: "The principles of biological warfare that we discovered 35 to 40 years ago have not changed." Patrick held up a sealed vial containing eight grams of highly refined powder. "Now you're very fortunate today," he said, "that I've carried in my suitcase here a sample of anthrax. The only requirement I have is that you don't drop it." His audience tittered nervously as the bottle passed from hand to hand.

"I want to bring several things to your attention," said Patrick. "Look how easily that powder flows. It is composed of three to five microns, the particle size that gets down into your lungs and causes the infection." Then he came clean. It was not really anthrax but rather Bacillus globigii, or B.g., the army's anthrax simulant of choice. "Now if you think I'm stupid enough to release anthrax in that powdered form," Patrick said with a grin, "you're giving me too much credit."

Patrick"s B.g. sample was purified to a trillion spores per gram -- near the theoretical limit -- and better than anything ever produced by Iraq, South Africa, or the Soviet Union. An untrained eye could not differentiate it from the anthrax powder that Patrick had produced in 1959. The purpose of the exercise at Dugway, however, was defensive: to prepare our nation for a bioterror attack.

In April 1999, Patrick told Fox News that in two years there will be an attack with a sophisticated agent manufactured overseas. His prediction was not far off the mark.

By October 12, 2001, the press was reporting that Bob Stevens (case 5), the 63-year old tabloid photo editor at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, who had mysteriously succumbed to inhalational anthrax on October 5, had been infected at work.(Inhalational anthrax comes from breathing in spores, and is far deadlier than the cutaneous form of the disease, which is usually contracted through cuts and scratches in the skin.) Spores were found throughout the A.M.I. building, with hot spots in the mailroom and on the victim's keyboard.

That day I got a call from supervisory special agent James R. Fitzgerald, a top F.B.I. profiler and threat-assessment expert. He said that anthrax had been discovered at NBC, and that he might be sending me some documents.

For my first 10 years as a professor of English literature at Vassar College, I got no closer to real-life tragedy than Titus Andronicus. Today, much of my time off campus is taken up by police detectives, F.B.I. agents, and district attorneys. My home phone number is unlisted, and my unexpected mail must be X-rayed or discarded. On the shelves of my office, the Great Books have been displaced by the writings of hoaxers, terrorists, kidnappers, the D.C. sniper, the anthrax killer.

It all began in January 1996, when Random House published Primary Colors, "by Anonymous." The editors of New York magazine asked me to figure out who had written it by applying the same methods I had always used for assigning authorship to ancient poems and anonymous plays. Relying mostly on old-fashioned linguistic analysis, I concluded that "Anonymous" was the Newsweek columnist Joe Klein" who promptly announced on national TV that I was wrong.

Literary scholars look at punctuation, spelling, word usage, regionalisms, slang, grammar, sentence construction, document formatting, topical allusions, ideology, borrowed source material -- but most of our ascribed attributions are for writers like Shakespeare, Pope, or Wordsworth. A dead poet cannot stand up and say, as Joe Klein did, "It's not me. I didn't do it. This is silly."

Five months later, when Klein finally admitted that he had written Primary Colors after all, lawyers and law-enforcement agencies were quick to see a real-world application for the kind of work that I and other scholars perform. I never dreamed that my correct answer would lead me from fiction to Quantico, or to the Montana cabin where the Unabomber scrawled his manifesto, or to the Boulder Police Department to help with the Jon Benet Ramsey homicide investigation, or to Boston's Irish Mafia, or to Centennial Olympic Park and the so-called Army of God bombings, much less to deadly anthrax at the heart of our own biodefense establishment.

Every day, crimes are committed that involve unsigned or forged documents. When confronted with a "questioned document," most police detectives seek out experts to analyze the physical evidence. It took Primary Colors for law-enforcement agencies to realize how much can be learned from the writing itself. A first-rate special agent in charge, such as Woody Enderson of the Southeast Bomb Task Force, can turn an investigation around by getting expert help with the linguistic evidence. Following the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, traditional profiling techniques had at first focused investigative attention on Richard Jewell, who was innocent. Enderson's task force gathered the Army of God letters from other bombings, along with envelopes, school papers, a grocery list, even marginal annotations in a Bible -- linguistic evidence that helped direct attention to Eric Robert Rudolph. He was arrested on May 31, 2003, after five years on the lam.

The main obstacle to the investigation of anonymous writing is simply that there is so much of it. Take the epidemic of hoax anthrax letters. Since April 1997 (the first recorded incidence of a major mailed anthrax hoax), law-enforcement agencies have responded to countless chemical and biological hoaxes -- an estimated 10,000 of them in October 2001 alone, following the news of Bob Stevens's infection. Most mailed biothreats contain harmless household powder and an anonymous message from the offender. Police and F.B.I. officials have established a routine for this entire class of documents: Confiscate both the letter and the envelope from the recipient without allowing any copies to be retained. Test the powder to confirm that it is nontoxic. Announce to the press that "the incident will be investigated as a serious crime." Then place the documents in what's known as a zero file and never look at them again.

Unfortunately, when that same strategy is applied to the questioned documents in a case as important as the 2001 anthrax murders, critical evidence may be overlooked. Everyone saw reproductions of the New Jersey anthrax letters calling for "DEATH TO AMERICA DEATH TO ISRAEL." More information has been gleaned from those brief letters than you may suppose. But many of the questioned documents pertinent to the anthrax case have been zero-filed. That is why I have decided finally to speak out.

On the phone that day, S.S.A. Fitzgerald told me that Erin O'Connor (case 2), an NBC aide, had been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax 17 days after opening a powder-filled letter addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. The letter, postmarked on September 20 in St. Petersburg, Florida, began:

(the Ns are reversed as Cyrillic characters in the published Vanity Fair article) 

Brief but ominous, the handwritten note threatened bioterror attacks on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

I found the text curious for a number of reasons. First, the quotation marks were done Russian-style, with the opening quotes below the line, and the document's backward N's resembled the letter I in Russia's Cyrillic alphabet. But a bilingual Russian would be unlikely to confuse English and Cyrillic characters. This appeared to be someone's attempt to make his writing look Russian, or at least foreign. The same went for the block letters, which Russian adults don't use.

The Brokaw letter matched two other biothreat letters, also from St. Petersburg, mailed 15 days later -- same writing, same backward N's and Russian quotes, same threats of imminent bioterror. One was sent to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, and the other to Howard Troxler, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Troxler opened his powder-packed letter on Tuesday, October 9. Miller opened hers at her office on Friday the 12th"the same day the NBC infection was diagnosed.

"THE UNTHINKABEL" looked like a deliberate misspelling, but why had it been placed in quotation marks" Turning to the Internet, I found announcements for a disaster-management conference to be held in Orlando called "It Could Happen to You -- Preparing for the Unthinkable" and featuring talks on bioterror readiness. The St. Petersburg letters, with their arrows and lists and dashes, vaguely resembled a slide from a Power-Point presentation, a common feature at scientific conferences. Then, too, Howard Troxler's surname -- in the letter proper, though not on the envelope -- was spelled "TOXLER." Could the error have been in-advertent, I wondered, a reflexive misspelling by someone used to writing such words as "toxic," "toxicity," "toxins," "toxicology," "toxoid?"

Linking bioterror to 9/11, the Florida letter writer warned of the destruction of Tampa Bay's Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Chicago's Sears Tower. Those threats were not credible -- terrorists do not send advance notice of their targets -- but the powder seemed to be "THE REAL THING," as the sender phrased it. One NBC aide was infected, and a man in Florida was dead.

On balance, the St. Petersburg letters looked to me to be the work of a scientist. The linguistic evidence and choice of targets pointed to an offender interested in biodefense: 9/11, he seemed to be saying, could be the prologue to something worse -- a sweeping epidemic of biological terrorism, for which our nation stood unprepared.

It soon came out, however, that the F.B.I. had recovered the wrong threatening letter. Laboratory analysis indicated that the white substance enclosed in the three St. Petersburg biothreats was nontoxic. Erin O'Connor must have been infected from another source. A fresh search of segregated NBC mail turned up a second letter, one with anthrax traces, likewise addressed to Tom Brokaw but written by someone else and postmarked on September 18 in Trenton. The letter read:


Here, then, were two powder-filled biothreats addressed to the same news anchor, two days and 1,000 miles apart. Neither writer could have known of the other unless they were in cahoots. But the powder in the New Jersey Brokaw letter was indeed the real thing. America, still reeling from September 11, was under attack by biological terrorists. On Monday, October 15, a taped-up envelope ostensibly sent by schoolchildren was delivered to the office of then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle in Washington, D.C. When it was opened, a cloud of powder burst into the air. This letter read:


Powder samples from both the Brokaw and Daschle letters were couriered to Fort Detrick, headquarters of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), in Frederick, Maryland. The USAMRIID scientists were alarmed by what they discovered. It was the same stuff that had killed Bob Stevens, the tabloid photo editor, in Florida: the Ames strain, used in the U.S. biodefense program. The distribution of Ames, regulated by USAMRIID, was limited to about a dozen labs under tight security controls. Moreover, the anthrax had been weaponized, refined to its most lethal particle size of one to three microns. Most astonishing was its purity: the powder had been concentrated to a trillion spores per gram.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday afternoon, October 16, Senator Daschle described the dry anthrax sent to his office as "very potent." Dr. Richard Spertzel, the former chief bio-inspector for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, went a step further. Describing the powder as "weapons grade," Spertzel told ABC that he knew of fewer than five experts in the United States with the capability to produce such material.

While East Coast postal workers expressed alarm, commanders at Fort Detrick objected to the term "weaponized." The F.B.I. and USAMRIID convened for an emergency interagency conference call. They agreed upon the terms "professionally done" and "energetic." Government spokespersons were instructed to use these words, not "weaponized," to describe the anthrax contained in the New Jersey letters. On Wednesday, a somber Senator Daschle sponsored a news conference. At his side stood Fort Detrick's commander, Major General John Parker, who called the Daschle powder "a garden variety" anthrax "sensitive to all antibiotics."

Two weeks later, appearing before the Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee, Parker testified that the terms "professionally done" and "energetic" were chosen "as more appropriate descriptions in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized materials." Parker seemed unaware that the army for the past decade has conducted extensive biodefense research on weaponized materials, both at USAMRIID and at the Dugway Proving Ground, and has even pushed to duplicate a hybrid anthrax produced by the old Soviet program. But by the time Parker explained his choice of words to the Senate committee, two Washington postal workers, Joseph Curseen Jr. (case 16) and Thomas Morris Jr. (case 15), who had credited reports that mail handlers were not at risk, had died, and several others were critically ill.

When the F.B.I. first approached me about this case, I was perfectly willing to believe that the anthrax was "garden variety" and that it had been sent by Muslim extremists. In fact, I was puzzled at first that the government was so quick to announce that this was probably a case of domestic, not foreign, terrorism. But as I analyzed the letters from New Jersey, I did see some red "flags" or, rather, red-white-and-blue ones.

The Brokaw and Daschle letters were dated "09-11-01." Most Americans write their dates in that order -- month, day, year -- while most of the rest of the world writes the date in day-month-year sequence. Might the offender be American? Maybe, maybe not. All who come to this country, including terrorists, learn from the moment they fill in their I.N.S. port-of-entry cards that American practice calls for the form MM-DD-YY. But why write the date at all? And why that date?

The New Jersey Brokaw letter was postmarked September 18 and the Daschle letter October 9. Neither letter was stamped on September 11. This offender wanted the authorities to explore a connection between the anthrax attacks and 9/11. But when an offender gives you unnecessary information that tells you what to think, you probably want to think twice.

The return address on the Daschle letter supplied more extraneous information: "FRANKLIN PARK, NJ 08852." From an online search I learned that there is a Franklin Park in New Jersey, 22 miles north of Trenton, where the letters were postmarked. But the Zip Code, 08852, corresponds to another New Jersey town, Monmouth Junction. The three communities run parallel to I-95. Clearly, the offender knew something about New Jersey, and with all of those dropped geographic clues, he surely knew that the authorities would look for him there. I had a hunch he'd turn up somewhere else, though probably within driving distance.

The Daschle letter -- which was identical to a letter sent to Senator Patrick Leahy that remained undiscovered until November 16, 2001 -- had this return address: "4TH GRADE, GREENDALE SCHOOL." The fictional school address was designed to make the envelope look harmless, and fourth graders in this country do indeed write letters to their elected representatives, often as a class project. Is that a piece of cultural information that would be known and referenced by an al-Qaeda cell?

Since there is no such school in New Jersey, I searched for Greendale schools elsewhere and found several, two of which, in Canada, had made headlines the year before, one for an arson fire and the other for a case of child molestation. A third Greendale School, in Maryland, had made news in 1973 in connection with forced desegregation. I made a note of it. It's not uncommon for the writers of criminal threats to draw on their own experience and reading.

On Tuesday, October 23, I appeared on ABC's Good Morning America to offer a few observations. Were we supposed to believe that this "professionally made" anthrax powder was packaged and mailed by someone who thought penicillin would be the antibiotic of choice, and who didn't even know how to spell it? That "penacilin" was the offender's way of saying, "Look, I don't know much about antibiotics. I don't even know how to spell "penicillin." So don't start thinking that I'm an American scientist. I'm just a semi-literate foreign fanatic."

Five days earlier, Johanna Huden (case 1), an assistant for the New York Post editorial page, was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. Searching a bag of segregated mail at the Post's editorial office in Manhattan, F.B.I. agents discovered a letter identical to the New Jersey Brokaw letter. The powder tested positive. That same week in New York, a staffer at CBS (case 9) and the infant son of an ABC News producer (case 8) were diagnosed with cutaneous infections, but no contaminated letters were recovered.

A Florida tabloid, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Post, the U.S. Senate. Well-taped envelopes with a note inside warning the recipient to seek medical treatment because Muslim bioterrorists were on the loose. None of this added up to an al- Qaeda operation, but neither did it look like the work of a random serial killer. Somebody was trying to deliver a message -- a message that kept getting lost in the shuffle.

I tried to imagine the culprit's point of view, based on my hypothesis that an American scientist might be responsible: September 11: America is under attack. John Doe, American biowarrior, knows that if the enemy escalates from airplanes to anthrax we're in trouble. There is too little spent on biodefense, and the F.D.A. has halted production of the BioPort anthrax vaccine. It might take a dose of the real thing to put the nation on high alert and straighten out our government's priorities. Taped envelope seals will prevent the powder from escaping before the letters reach their destination. And the enclosed message will ensure that all recipients are given the antibiotic Cipro in time to prevent fatalities. America's leading biowarriors -- including, perhaps, John Doe himself -- will receive the kind of recognition and respect they have long deserved.

Within days of the 9/11 attack, the F.B.I. announces that several of the hijackers had been based in Delray Beach, Florida. Wasting no time, John Doe takes his cue: the nation's first anthrax attack will take place in Palm Beach County. The authorities will associate the anthrax attack with that Delray terror cell. An Internet search supplies John Doe with an apt target: American Media Inc., a publisher of supermarket tabloids. When the letter arrives, the police will be called, and the powder tested. When they discover it is the real thing, biodefense will become the nation's top concern.

Out goes the first Florida letter, to A.M.I. Oddly, nothing happens. To John Doe, it seems as if his anthrax letter has been discarded without being opened. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. has learned that some of the remaining hijackers were based in New Jersey. John Doe prepares a fresh salvo. His targets this time will include NBC and the New York Post, possibly ABC and CBS. On September 18, from New Jersey, John Doe mails a new batch of anthrax letters, this time with a more explicit message:


Surely, one of those letters will be opened. John Doe watches the news from September 18 through October 1. Still nothing. Then, on October 4, comes the grim news that a photo editor at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton has been diagnosed with inhalational anthrax. So the letter was opened after all, and not credited. It's too late now to save the victim. On October 5, Bob Stevens (case 5) dies. John Doe has now killed a man, and the nation has not heard the wake-up call because the authorities think Stevens, an outdoorsman, may have gotten the disease "naturally." John Doe waits a few more days, hoping that one of his September 18 letters will be opened. Not one scores a hit.

The offender is now in the uncomfortable position of having to warn the nation not only about the al-Qaeda threat but also about his own unnoticed handiwork. On October 9, he mails letters to two liberal U.S. senators, adding about a gram of his best material to each envelope, his deadliest payload yet. This time, the whole nation will sit up straight. The two senators will be put on Cipro, and no one else will get hurt.

On October 12, John Doe's NBC letter of September 18 is discovered. Finally, all Americans will understand our vulnerability to biological terrorism. Unfortunately, the post-office sorting machines were a little too rough on the envelopes. A lot more people than John Doe ever intended are about to get sick.

On October 31, 2001, Fort Detrick's commander was on Capitol Hill speaking to a congressional committee about "energetic" anthrax hours after Kathy Nguyen (case 22), 61, a South Bronx hospital worker, died from inhalational anthrax. Swabs were taken from her home, her workplace, and her mailbox, but not a single spore was discovered.

I sent an e-mail to a friend in the F.B.I.'s New York field office. Forensics are not my department, I wrote, but has the Amerithrax Task Force assigned to the investigation taken swabs from garbage dumpsters? If Nguyen dropped her trash into a Dumpster that already contained anthrax discarded by the offender, or, possibly, an anthrax-laced letter discarded by ABC, CBS, NBC, or the Post, then might those spores have spread into the air in sufficient quantity to be inhaled?

My source wrote back to say that "they think Nguyen got a real snout full of anthrax." The task force hoped that this latest fatality would lead them straight to the killer. Perhaps there was a person or location that could account for her exposure to airborne anthrax. "They are still looking for that secret place," my source wrote. In the end, though, Kathy Nguyen's death was written off as an insoluble mystery.

In November, some of the West's top biowarriors converged on Swindon, England, for an advanced training course for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission. One of the big names on hand for the conference was Steven J. Hatfill, a former USAMRIID virologist and a protégé of Bill Patrick's. Those who completed the course and were certified would have a chance to join the search for Saddam's bioweapons in Iraq. While the 12-day course was under way, someone sent another biothreat letter, postmarked in November in London, to Senator Daschle. When the powder proved nontoxic, the letter was filed away and escaped further scrutiny.

Ninety-four-year-old Ottilie Lundgren (case 23) of Oxford, Connecticut, succumbed to anthrax on November 21, making her the fifth fatality. The infection was believed to have come from a cross-contaminated letter. If you have a compromised immune system, it takes only a few spores for B. anthracis to begin its silent work inside your body. Lundgren had simply been unlucky. An estimated 85 million pieces of mail were processed by the Washington, D.C., and New Jersey postal facilities while the Daschle and Leahy letters were in the system; it's surprising how few of us got sick.

By the time the F.B.I. showed up in Connecticut to investigate the Lundgren case, the press was hungry for news, but the Amerithrax Task Force was saying little about its search for the killer. After an F.B.I. agent mentioned something about "the Camel Club," Dave Altimari and Jack Dolan of the Hartford Courant searched online legal archives for the phrase. They found a lawsuit, not yet resolved, involving Dr. Ayaad Assaad, an Arab-American scientist who worked at USAMRIID until he was laid off in 1997. Dolan and Altimari gave Assaad's attorney a call and got an earful.

An American citizen since 1981, the Egyptian-born Assaad, 54, is grateful to his adopted country and proud of the ricin vaccine that he developed during his eight years as a civilian research scientist for the U.S. Army. But after Assaad transferred to USAMRIID, in 1989, he claimed in his lawsuit, several white, American-born pathologists founded "the Camel Club," whose purpose was to harass and humiliate him.

Assaad says he experienced continued harassment until his unexpected layoff in March 1997. Given 60 days to vacate, Assaad packed up on May 9, 1997, said goodbye to his colleagues, and headed for the door. He says he was stopped by USAMRIID guards who, with a superior's help, rummaged through his belongings in a vain search for stolen army property. (The U.S. Army denies that Assaad was discriminated against or wrongfully dismissed. The case is currently in appeals court.)

New USAMRIID hires that year, following Assaad's departure, included Steven J. Hatfill, a recruit from the National Institutes of Health. Hatfill was a concept man with a detailed vision for building mobile germ labs. Assaad, meanwhile, took a job with the Environmental Protection Agency, where he now works as a toxicologist testing pesticides.

Assaad told Dolan and Altimari that he was at home in Frederick, Maryland, on October 2, 2001, when he received a call from Agent Gregory Leylegian of the F.B.I., summoning him to a meeting the next morning. It was the same day American Media's Bob Stevens (case 5) entered J.F.K. Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida.

Assaad and his attorney, Rosemary McDermott, arrived at the Washington, D.C., field office at 10 A.M. They were met by Agents Leylegian and Mark Buie, who explained that an anonymous letter had been mailed to the "Town of Quantico Police," identifying Assaad as a fanatic with the will and means to launch a bioterror attack on the United States. Buie read the one-page, single-spaced, computer-generated 212-word letter aloud. Assaad, who holds a Ph.D. in physiology from Iowa State University in Ames and is married to a Nebraskan, was shocked by the letter's depiction of him as a potential terrorist.

Agent Buie asked what the letter writer might have meant by "further terrorist activity." "Put it this way," McDermott said, "Dr. Assaad is suing the army for discrimination and wrongful dismissal. Some people are pretty upset with him about that." Buie and Leylegian had no reason to think that a bioterror attack was imminent. The Quantico letter was postmarked September 21, a day after the Florida Brokaw letter and three days after the New Jersey Brokaw letter that contained the real thing, but those documents had not yet come to light.

Dr. Assaad wondered what he would do if the government revoked his citizenship or if he could no longer work at the Environmental Protection Agency. When Assaad left USAMRIID in 1997, he thought his ordeal was over. Now, four years later, he stood accused as a traitor to his country, a corrupter of his sons, a dangerous psychopath, a bioterrorist.

It was now December 2001, yet Dolan and Altimari's Hartford Courant story was the first I had heard of the Quantico letter. S.S.A. Fitzgerald had not heard of it, either. In fact, there were quite a few critical documents that Fitzgerald had not yet seen. What, I wondered, has the anthrax task force been doing" Hoping that the Quantico letter might lead, if not to the killer, at least to a suspect, I offered to examine the document. My photocopy arrived by FedEx not from the task force but from F.B.I. headquarters in Washington. Searching through documents by some 40 USAMRIID employees, I found writings by a female officer that looked like a perfect match. I wrote a detailed report on the evidence, but the anthrax task force declined to follow through: the Quantico letter had already been declared a hoax and zero-filed as part of the 9/11 investigation.

When Assaad's attorney sought, under the Freedom of Information Act, to obtain a copy, the Justice Department denied her request: releasing the document "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of third parties" and "disclose the identities of confidential sources."

Six months after the first deadly powder-bearing letter was mailed, five months after my initial call from the F.B.I., I still had only the four anthrax letters and envelopes, the three biothreats mailed nearly simultaneously from St. Petersburg, and the Quantico letter. The F.B.I. hadn't identified a suspect and had only the anthrax itself by which to search for the offender. Barring further incidents, we would have to look for other extant writings by the anthrax killer. But where does one even begin looking?

Because the New Jersey and Florida letters seemed related and possibly collaborative, I searched for stories of past so-called hoaxes -- and uncovered a trail of seemingly related biothreat incidents, several of which exhibited language and writing strategies similar to those of the New Jersey and Florida documents. The earliest incident occurred in April 1997. Signing himself "The Counter Holocaust Lobbyists of Hillel" -- phraseology borrowed from the Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel -- someone sent a petri dish to the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith. The dish, broken in the mail, contained Bacillus cereus, or B.c., an anthrax simulant used for biodefense research. A hazardous materials team was called in. Whole city blocks were evacuated. But the writing was not examined, the document was zerofiled, and no arrest was made. Net cost to taxpayers: $2 million.

It was while looking for information on the B'nai B'rith incident that I found a Washington Times interview with Steven Hatfill, then a virologist with the N.I.H., who was said to have "thought carefully about bioterrorism." The Times paraphrased Dr. Hatfill"s explanation of the "four levels" of possible biological attack:

The first is the B'nai B'rith variety, in which no real organisms are used. ("Hello. This is Abdul. We have put anthrax in the food at Throckmorton Middle School." In fact, Abdul hasn't.) We empty public buildings for bomb threats, how about for anthrax threats" After all, sooner or later, one might be real.

The second level consists in the release of real bacteria, but without the intention of infecting many people. Probably only a few people would get it, and perhaps none would die.

The third level consists in trying to get a lot of people sick, and maybe dead. Anthrax spores put into the ventilation system of a movie theater would do the trick. The result would be horrendous panic even if only 100 people got sick or died. ...

The fourth level consists of a self-sustaining, unstoppable epidemic.

How hard, really, would it be to carry out a bio-attack? Not very, Hatfill said. Culturing bacteria is easy and almost universally understood.

I searched the Internet for a Throckmorton school and found nothing of interest outside Throckmorton, Texas, except for the Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center at Kansas State University, where courses are taught on agricultural pathogens. Could there be a connection, I wondered, between the "Throckmorton Middle School" scenario and the anthrax killer's "Greendale School?"

Searching further, I learned that the B'nai B'rith episode occurred a few months after mysterious gas incidents at Washington National Airport (now Reagan National) and Baltimore- Washington International Airport. On both occasions, passengers were overcome with noxious fumes not publicly identified by investigators. Ten months later, people again fell ill at Washington National and had to be hospitalized after reporting fumes. In January 1998, after the third airport incident in a year, TheWashington Times' magazine,Insight, published a second interview with Hatfill, who said, "These types of incidents could be a form of testing for a possible future terrorist attack -- perhaps next time using anthrax."

This ominous commentary was accompanied by a photograph of Hatfill at home, in his kitchen, wearing garbage bags, gloves, and an army-supply gas mask, illustrating how a bioterrorist might cook up bubonic plague in a private laboratory and cause havoc using a homemade spray disseminator such as the one Hatfill had designed himself. All of which seemed, to me, an unusual hobby for a virologist then employed by the National Institutes of Health.

Then I found another interesting news item. Shortly after Insight published its ghoulish photograph of Hatfill in his home laboratory, a white male, wearing a gas mask, deposited a bottle outside the U.S. Treasury Building. An anonymous call was then placed alerting the U.S. Secret Service that it contained "liquid chemical warfare agent." The bottle, though found, was not preserved -- it was, after all, just a "hoax."

In its interview with Hatfill, Insightreported that he had worked in Zimbabwe in the late 1970s when "an epidemic of anthrax from natural causes affected 10,000 people." In fact, Hatfill had been in apartheid Rhodesia from 1978 to 1980 (the year it was renamed Zimbabwe), and witnessed the worst outbreak of anthrax ever recorded -- in a part of Africa where anthrax was rarely encountered. During the civil war to topple the apartheid government, the southern Tribal Trust Lands were ravaged by an epidemic that caused 10,738 recorded human infections in about two years. Today, black Zimbabweans and their livestock are still becoming ill and dying from the biological fallout.

That the outbreak was "natural" is debatable. In 1992, Dr. Meryl Nass, an American physician, and Jeremy Brickhill, a Zimbabwean journalist, published separate reports supporting what was already suspected: that the Rhodesian anthrax epidemic was deliberate, a biowarfare attack on the black townships, probably carried out by Rhodesia's notorious government-backed Selous Scouts militia.

In January 2002, while compiling documents by and about Hatfill, including his unclassified scientific publications, I found a brief autobiography. In it, Hatfill, though American, boasted of having served in the late 1970s with the Selous Scouts in Rhodesia. In that same brief bio, Dr. Hatfill indicated that he had taken his medical degree from the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine in Harare, Rhodesia, which he attended from 1978 to '84. Next I searched the Internet for a Greendale School somewhere in Africa and discovered the Courteney Selous School, situated in the wealthy, white Harare suburb of Greendale, a mile from the medical school where Hatfill spent six years obtaining his M.D. while serving, by his own unconfirmed account, with the Selous Scouts.

Steven Hatfill was now looking to me like a suspect, or at least, as the F.B.I. would denote him eight months later, "a person of interest." When I lined up Hatfill's known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats, those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud. But in February 2002, shortly after I advanced his candidacy to my contact at F.B.I. headquarters, I was told that Mr. Hatfill had a good alibi. A month later, when I pressed the issue, I was told, "Look, Don, maybe you're spending too much time on this." Good people in the Department of Defense, C.I.A., and State Department, not to mention Bill Patrick, had vouched for Hatfill. I decided to give it a rest. But first, I faxed a comparative-handwriting sample to F.B.I. headquarters, with examples of Hatfill's printing on the left and printing by the anthrax offender on the right. I am not a handwriting expert, so I supplied the document without comment. A week later, I got a thank-you call.

In 1999, Hatfill was fired by USAMRIID. He was then hired at Science Applications International Corporation (S.A.I.C.), a contractor for the Department of Defense and the C.I.A., but he departed S.A.I.C. in March 2002, a month after he took a polygraph concerning the anthrax matter that he says he passed. Hatfill at the time was building a mobile germ lab out of an old truck chassis, and after S.A.I.C. fired him he continued work on it using his own money. When the F.B.I. wanted to confiscate the mobile lab to test it for anthrax spores, the army resisted, moving the trailer to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where it was used to train Special Forces in preparation for the war on Iraq. The classes were taught by Steve Hatfill and Bill Patrick.

In March 2002, as the F.B.I. continued to investigate, Hatfill moved on to a $150,000- a-year job in Louisiana, funded by a grant from the Department of Justice. That same month, from Louisiana, came a fresh batch of hoax anthrax letters. L.S.U.'s Martin Hugh-Jones, a World Health Organization director, examined the powder they contained and found it to be nontoxic. The letters were then put into a zero file without their language being examined by a trained professional.

On the night of March 12, Ayaad Assaad received a call from a person representing himself as a Louisiana F.B.I. agent. The caller demanded to know if Assaad had been told who wrote the Quantico letter. To prove his credentials, the caller rattled off personal information from as far back as Assaad's Egyptian high school -- the Arabic name of which he pronounced correctly. Assaad believes he recognized the caller's source of information: he was likely reading from Assaad's confidential SF-171, a U.S.-government employment application form that had been on file at USAMRIID.

Frightened, Dr. Assaad hung up, then called me at home at 10 P.M. to tell me of the incident. I assured him the call was fraudulent. The F.B.I. does not conduct its business in that way.

There were, in my opinion, a few people whose recorded voices should be played back to Assaad to see if he recognized one of them as his anonymous caller. Though it is a felony to impersonate an F.B.I. agent, the task force decided not to investigate. According to Assaad, when he finally called the F.B.I., he was told to get caller ID.

In December 2001, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a noted bioweapons expert, delivered a paper contending that the perpetrator of the anthrax crimes was an American microbiologist whose training and possession of Ames-strain powder pointed to a government insider with experience in a U.S. military lab. In March 2002, she told the BBC that the anthrax deaths may have resulted from a secret project to examine the practicability of sending real anthrax through the mail -- an experiment that misfired despite such precautions as taped envelope seals. That surprising hypothesis made Rosenberg a target for knee-jerk criticism, but competent sources within the biowarfare establishment thought she might well be right.

In April, I met Rosenberg for lunch at an Indian restaurant in Brewster, New York, and compared notes. We found that our evidence had led us in the same direction, though by different routes and for different reasons.

The weeks dragged on. Prodded publicly by Rosenberg and privately by myself, the F.B.I.'s anthrax task force nevertheless seemed stubbornly unwilling to consider the evidence pointing toward a military insider or to examine the Quantico letter or those few "hoax" biothreats that I believed, and still believe, may shed light on the anthrax murders. The additional documents that I had been expecting from the F.B.I. never arrived. S.S.A. Fitzgerald, the F.B.I.'s top in-house text analyst, asked to examine the same set of documents and received the same answer: no. I'm not an insider, nor an old hand. I have worked with the F.B.I. for only six years, on no more than 20 investigations. But never have I encountered such reluctance to examine potentially critical documents.

Meanwhile, friends of Fort Detrick were leaking to the press new pieces of disinformation indicating that the mailed anthrax probably came from Iraq. The leaks included false allegations that the Daschle anthrax included additives distinctive to the Iraqi arms program and that it had been dried using an atomizer spray dryer sold by Denmark to Iraq.

Her patience exhausted, Dr. Rosenberg met with the Senate Judiciary Committee staff on June 18, 2002, and laid out the evidence, such as it was, hers and mine. Van Harp, head of the Amerithrax Task Force, sat in on the briefing. The senators were attentive. So, too, evidently, was Harp: exactly one week after Rosenberg's meeting with the Judiciary Committee staff, the F.B.I. searched Hatfill's residence. A bureau spokesman described it to The Washington Times as a "voluntary search" without a warrant, "requested" by Dr. Hatfill to clear his name.

Suddenly I was being flooded with documents from reporters and concerned scientists: letters, e-mails, curricula vitae, handwriting samples, and original .fiction by Steve Hatfill. I learned from one document that Hatfill had audited a Super Terrorism seminar in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 1997, the day of the B'nai B'rith incident. The next day, in a letter to the seminar's organizer, Edgar Brenner, he wrote that he was "tremendously interested in becoming more involved in this area" and noted that the petri-dish scare, so soon after the seminar, showed that "this topic is vital to the security of the United States." Hatfill's original fiction included a cut-and-paste forgery of a diploma for a Ph.D. from Rhodes University, which he used to obtain his jobs at the N.I.H., USAMRIID, and S.A.I.C.

No less interesting to me, as a professor of English literature, was Hatfill's unpublished novel, Emergence, which I examined in Washington at the U.S. Copyright Office. In the book, an Iraqi virologist launches a bioterror attack on behalf of an unnamed sponsor, using an identity acquired from the Irish Republican Army and a homemade sprayer like the one Steven J. Hatfill demonstrated forThe Washington Times. A fictional scientist named Steven J. Roberts comes to the rescue, tracing the outbreak to Iraq. The Strangelovean novel ends with America nuking Baghdad. As the warheads fall, the pilot remarks, "Beautiful . . . just beautiful. Welcome to Fuck City, Ragheads! Let"s get the hell out of Dodge."

I was reminded of Bill Patrick's words in his talk at Maxwell Air Force Base: "The beauty of biological warfare, good people, is that you can pick an agent with a short period of incubation, or a moderate period of incubation, or a long period. And this, I think, would be very attractive to terrorists, because they can do their dirty work and get out of Dodge City, and you won't know that you're infected till they're long gone."

Hatfill's novel, however, has a surprise ending. In a three-page epilogue, the narrator, a Russian mobster, reveals that his own organization, not Iraq, is responsible for the bioterror attack:

"The reaction was as great as we had hoped for the entire focus of the American F.B.I. has now shifted towards combating chemical/ biological terrorism and this is allowing us to formulate the unprecedented expansion of our organization."

Biowarfare fiction was no mere lark for Steven Hatfill. It was his specialty. His responsibilities at USAMRIID included the writing of bioterror scenarios, at least one of which actually happened. Hatfill envisioned someone spreading a pathogen throughout several floors of a public office building. It would take only one reported illness, he predicted, "to shut down the entire building, especially if the bug had been sprayed on several .floors. Then the call comes: "Let our man loose, or we'll do a school." In August 1998, in Wichita, Kansas, 40 miles southeast of Southwestern College, Hatfill's alma mater, powder was spread throughout several floors of the Finney State Office Building. Then came "the call," in the form of a letter from a team of Christian Identity extremists and a group calling itself Brothers for Freedom of Americans.

A few days later, Hatfill and Bill Patrick arrived in San Diego for the Worldwide Conference on Antiterrorism, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. I asked my F.B.I. contact for the Wichita documents. Again, my requests were denied.

The ink was hardly dry on Emergence when the government hired Hatfill, now working for S.A.I.C., to commission a paper from Bill Patrick focusing on how to respond to a biological terror event.

I have read Patrick's 1999 report "Risk Assessment." Though it's a classified document, it contains little that he hasn't said before elsewhere. I did, however, find in it something that surprised me: Patrick describes a hypothetical incident in which an attacker uses the U.S. mail service to deliver a business envelope containing no more than 2.5 grams of aerosolized anthrax, refined to a trillion spores per gram, in particles smaller than five microns. Patrick explains that 2.5 grams is the amount that can be placed into a standard envelope without detection. "More powder makes the envelope bulge and draws attention."

As prophecies go, that one's right on the money. The "DEATH TO AMERICA" letters sent two years later to Senators Daschle and Leahy contained about a gram of aerosolized anthrax, particle size one to three microns, refined to a trillion spores per gram. Bill Patrick plus the Dugway scientists make up Richard Spertzel's short list of four U.S. experts who know how to make such a fine dry powder. The anthrax killer, whoever he may be, represents a fifth expert with Patrick's bench skills. But until the Daschle powder appeared, every quoted expert I had seen except Patrick said it couldn't be done at all.

After rumors broke that Bill Patrick, in a classified paper, had foreseen a bioterror attack using the mail service, a transcript of his paper was leaked to the press. The leaked version represents Patrick's original text for S.A.I.C., typos and all, but with one critical omission: a footnote in which Patrick claims that the U.S. has refined "weaponized" powder to a trillion spores per gram has disappeared.

By midsummer 2002, the F.B.I. and even Attorney General John Ashcroft were obliged to call Steve Hatfill a "person of interest," despite diehard assurances from other government sources that he wasn't. That August, the F.B.I. returned to Hatfill's Maryland apartment. Searching his refrigerator, agents found a canister of Bacillus thuringiensis, or B.t. -- a mostly harmless pesticide widely used on caterpillars -- which USAMRIID adopted for study in 1995, after UNSCOM discovered that B.t. was Iraq's favored anthrax simulant.

On August 25, in a second dramatic press conference, Hatfill, having shaved his mustache of 20 years, protested his persecution. This was the first I had seen of my suspect. He was five feet eleven and 210 pounds, with pale-blue eyes and a downturned mouth. He would not mind being investigated, he said, except that Attorney General Ashcroft "has broken the Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness." With these words, Hatfill's voice cracked and his eyes welled up with tears. His emotional display won over many hearts, even among the usually cynical Washington press corps.

The American press seems to enjoy dumping on the F.B.I. For the first nine months of the investigation, it was said that the F.B.I. was spinning its wheels. Ever since, it's been said that the F.B.I. has ruined a man's life -- that Steve Hatfill is a second Richard Jewell, the long-suffering suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. In May, one F.B.I. team trailed Hatfill so closely that its S.U.V. ran over his foot. Then the Washington police ticketed him for "walking to create a hazard."

I know something about the Centennial Olympic Park serial bomber, because I helped -- using linguistic evidence gleaned from the Army of God letters -- to direct investigative attention on to Eric Robert Rudolph. And it is my opinion, based on the documents I have examined, that Hatfill is no Richard Jewell. The F.B.I.'s early Centennial Olympic Park bombing suspect was said to fit a behavior profile of domestic bombers, but I found nothing in Jewell's use of language to implicate him as a terrorist. As for Hatfill, it was the F.B.I.'s best team of trained bloodhounds, not an offender profile nor my text analysis, that finally persuaded the Amerithrax Task Force in July 2002 to associate Hatfill with the anthrax letters and put him under 24-hour surveillance. The bureau's description of him as a "person of interest" is neither inaccurate nor unfair. (Through his lawyer, Hatfill maintained his innocence and declined to comment for this article.)

One thing I've learned about the F.B.I. in my years as a civilian consultant is that the bureau is a compartmentalized house of secrets. Each field office and task force guards its information and documents like a treasure trove, and no one office, not even F.B.I. headquarters, has direct access to the whole picture. But the F.B.I. is an open book compared with our biowarfare establishment. The Pentagon has a long history of clandestine experimentation on human guinea pigs that bears looking into. In 1952, for example, the army conducted open-air tests at Fort McClellan, Alabama, with bioweapons simulants that, though bacterial, were supposedly harmless. When local respiratory illness skyrocketed and dozens of civilians died, the army quietly discontinued use of the problem simulant and carried on with another.

Then there's the 1965 simulated attack on the New York City subway. On June 8 of that year, under Bill Patrick's direction, the subway was targeted with the anthrax simulant B.g. Lightbulbs, each containing 87 trillion spores, were dropped onto the tracks. Trains then sucked the clouds of live bacteria into the subway system. C.I.A. and military scientists, bearing fake ID's, were on location to count the spores. More than a million riders were exposed to B.g. that day; many inhaled more than a million spores per minute. Patrick, when telling this story, still chuckles about how "we clobbered the Lexington line with B.g." What he doesn't say is that, during a similar test in San Francisco in 1950, one person died from B.g. complications and many others fell ill. The cause of the fatality was not discovered until 1977, when the U.S. Army, in Senate subcommittee hearings, finally disclosed its mock biological attack on San Francisco. ("We clobbered downtown San Francisco with Bacillus globigii," Bill Patrick told his Maxwell Air Force Base audience in February 1999. "This was very successful.") No one knows how many riders may have become sick from the 1965 New York" subway test. The experiment was kept secret for 20 years. By then, the statute of limitations for lawsuits was long past and contemporary medical records were hard to come by.

It's also a matter of record that in 1965 military scientists gassed Washington National Airport and a Greyhound bus terminal, using B.g. Most Americans would like to think that our government doesn't do that kind of thing anymore. I'd like to report, for example, that our military had nothing to do with those three gas incidents at Baltimore- Washington and Washington National airports in 1997. Though the F.B.I. won't confirm it, I've been told at least one of those three events involved the dissemination not of B.g. but of B.t., the same substance the F.B.I. discovered in Hatfill's refrigerator in August 2002.

It is not my job to indict or to try my own suspect for the anthrax murders. And even if the F.B.I. should find hard evidence linking Hatfill to a crime, he will remain innocent until proved guilty. But all Americans have a right to know more about the system that allowed Steven Hatfill to become one of the nation's leading bioterror experts. Here is a fellow with a fake Ph.D. who posed forThe Washington Times as a bioterrorist with a homemade plague disseminator, and who boasted as recently as last year of having served with the apartheid government's notorious Selous Scouts during the Rhodesian anthrax epidemic. I have three different editions of his curriculum vitae, each one a tissue of lies. How did such a rascal come to be instructing the C.I.A., F.B.I., Defense Intelligence Agency, army, navy, Marines, U.S. marshals, and State Department on such matters as the handling of deadly pathogens and of bioterror incidents" How did he happen to acquire, to quote from his résumé, a "working knowledge of the former U.S. and foreign BW [biowarfare] programs, wet and dry BW agents, largescale production of bacterial, rickettsial, and viral BW pathogens and toxins, stabilizers and other additives, former BG simulant production methods, open air testing and vulnerability trials, single and 2 fluid nozzle dissemination, [and] bomblet design?" How did he obtain clearance to operate in top military labs on exotic viral pathogens, such as Ebola, and on Level 3 pathogens such as bubonic plague and anthrax?

In August 2000, Hatfill trained forces at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, using a makeshift bioterror "kitchen" lab that he built himself out of scavenged parts, as well as biosafety cabinets taken from USAMRIID. The borrowed cabinets, suitable for turning germs into weapons, are still missing and are said to have been destroyed. Hatfill, a certified scuba diver, once spoke of how to use a pond in the Frederick Municipal Forest a few miles from his former residence in Maryland" to dispose of toxins. On that information, the F.B.I. searched Whiskey Springs Pond and found a homemade biosafety cabinet. The pond, when later drained, disclosed a rusty bicycle and a street sign but no new evidence.

This summer, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press ran stories on Hatfill's activities as a designer of simulated bioterror labs. None mentioned that Hatfill sprayed his trainees with samples of aerosolized B.g. When questioned about these activities, Hatfill, in apparent contradiction of his 2002 résumé, denied having knowledge of how to refine a dry bacterial powder to the level achieved by army scientists.

The most curious piece of fieldwork noted on Steven Hatfill's most recent C.V. is that of "open air testing and vulnerability trials." In a 2001 paper, "Biological WarfareScenarios," Bill Patrick called the 1965 simulated attack on the New York subway "one of the most important vulnerability studies" of the 70 he conducted. In 1969, when the army's biowarfare program was officially terminated, Steven Hatfill was still in fifth grade. By 1998, Hatfill was Patrick's sidekick in what one colleague has described as a "Batman and Robin" team. But it is from USAMRIID that Hatfill claims to have acquired his working knowledge of army-sponsored "vulnerability" trials.

Several of America's bioweaponeers have said, for the record, that the anthrax attack has an upside. The killings have forced long-awaited F.D.A. approval of the Bioport anthrax vaccine facility and prompted increased federal spending on biodefense -- by $6 billion in 2003 alone. But the anthrax offender also diverted law-enforcement resources when we needed them most and wreaked havoc on the U.S. Postal Service. He has shown the world how to disrupt the American economy with minimal expense, and how to kill with minimal risk of being caught.

Now that it"s been done once, it seems likely to happen again. Bill Patrick -- whose expertise, in the wrong hands, may be deadly -- even though he is not -- has advised our military to be prepared for something far worse: "People say to me, ‘BW"s not effective.' Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you, you look at atomic energy, you look at chemical method of infection -- nothing, I mean nothing, produces what biological warfare does when you do your planning, and you have the right agent and the right dissemination-and-delivery system. Any questions?"


October 8, 2001, Newsweek, Anthrax Alarm: What had been a public-health probe in Florida is now a criminal investigation, by Joseph Contreras, Michael Isikoff and Howard Fineman, (Monday)

The possibility that a photo editor for the weekly tabloid The Sun was killed in a bioterrorism attack took on a new sense of urgency today after Florida public-health officials disclosed that a nose swab taken from a 73-year-old hospitalized co-worker contained the rare bacteria spore that induces Anthrax, an often-fatal illness.

Public health officials confirmed that Ernesto Blanco (case 7), a 73-year-old Cuban-American who works in the mailroom of American Media office building in Boca Raton tested as having been exposed to Anthrax. Blanco was admitted to a Miami hospital last week with symptoms of pneumonia. On Friday, (Oct. 5) Bob Stevens (case 5), a photo editor at The Sun, died from disease.

What had been described as a public-health probe instantly became a criminal investigation as FBI agents on Sunday evening (Oct. 7) sealed off the office building, which houses the offices of most of the country’s supermarket tabloids including The National Enquirer, The Star,The Globe, News of the World and others. Employees and visitors to the building were ordered to undergo medical tests. Grim-faced state officials who had initially tried to downplay speculation late last week that Stevens's demise might have been caused by foul play didn't sound so sure at a Monday afternoon press conference. "We can't speculate as to the source of this particular anthrax germ," said acting Florida Secretary of Health Dr. John Agwunobi, who confirmed earlier reports that Anthrax spores had been found on the computer keyboard at Bob Stevens's desk. Other officials went further. “We have to assume that a human element was involved,” concluded Florida Health Department director of disease control Dr. Landis Crockett.

NEWSWEEK has learned that the FBI is aggressively trying to locate a summer intern from nearby Florida Atlantic University in connection with the investigation. The intern, who sources said came from a Middle Eastern country, had sent an e-mail to all employees that a top American Media official described as "peculiar." The e-mail thanked company employees for the help he gave them, but then contained language suggesting that he wasn't saying "goodbye." Another company official recalled the email as having "a sense of foreboding" and referring to a "surprise" or "something that he left behind." Said the official, "it was weird."

Sources at American Media said the FBI has asked company employees about any "enemies" the company or its papers might have. Given the content of the weekly tabloids, “that list would go on forever,” joked one employee. Alarmed workers say they are urgently trying to recall receiving suspicious or unusual letters and packages. Several are focusing on a letter that arrived at the company about a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. It was described by sources as a "weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez" --similar, outwardly, to the types of mail the tabloids often get. But inside the oddly-worded letter was what was described as a "soapy, powdery substance" and in the pile of that a cheap Star of David charm. The letter, per routine, was taken in by the joint mailroom of the company. Employees said the letter was handled both by Stevens and Blanco.

By late Monday afternoon, Boca Raton fire rescue vehicles and unmarked trucks and vans had descended on the American Media office building and investigators in white germproof suits were combing the ramp leading into the underground parking lot. Earlier in the day, hundreds of office workers filled out four-page forms at the Delray Beach health center asking them questions about their medical history, any recent unusual events that had occurred inside the building and whether they had visited the mail room and a photo library frequented by Blanco and Stevens.

The office workers were issued 15-day supplies of the antibiotic Cipro that doctors prescribe in cases of Anthrax exposure. A skittish golf pro who works at a course adjacent to the premises of the American Media headquarters looked on warily from a distance as law enforcement officials swarmed around the building this morning. "I’m very concerned, and I'm going to give my lessons on the far side of the course," said Broken Sound Golf Course instructor Michael Meredith. "I'm going to try to stay as far away as possible." He was not alone in voicing such sentiments on a day when the specter of bioterrorism suddenly loomed large over the placid suburbs of Palm Beach County.

With Catharine Skipp

October 9, 2001, Washingon Post, Second Anthrax Case Found in Fla.,Victim's Co-Worker Infected; FBI Launches Massive Probe As Va. Monitors a Third Man, by Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

A co-worker (case 7) of a Florida man who died on Friday (case 5) from a rare form of anthrax has tested positive for infection with the anthrax bacterium, a discovery that has triggered a massive FBI investigation into how the two highly unusual events could have occurred in such close proximity.

By yesterday evening the Lantana, Fla., building where the men worked was swarming with federal investigators -- some in protective white "moon suits" -- and was surrounded by a variety of large and in some cases unmarked vehicles, including a black bus with blacked-out windows, red and blue lights and a raft of high-tech equipment on the roof.

In Virginia, officials said last night that they were monitoring a possible case of anthrax in a Northern Virginia man whose job may have brought him into contact with the company where the other two men worked.

State and local officials said the Prince William County man entered the emergency room of Prince William Hospital in Manassas yesterday complaining of flu-like symptoms. Medical personnel on the scene responded quickly by performing tests to determine whether he had anthrax, meningitis or another disease, officials said.

Officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also on the scene and monitored the preliminary investigation. A germ culture from the man was transported last night by a State Police trooper from Prince William County to a state government laboratory in Richmond, officials said.

"The state government was notified and we are following our established procedures," said M. Boyd Marcus Jr., chief of staff for Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R). "We cannot confirm at this point whether he has developed anthrax or not."

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday the FBI, the CDC and the Florida Health Department are vigorously investigating the Florida cases -- the first two in the United States in 25 years. The disease is not contagious, so it could not have been spread from the first man to the second.

"We take this very seriously," Ashcroft said at a midday news briefing, noting that public health officials were dispensing antibiotics to hundreds of the victims' co-workers on the off chance that some may have been exposed to the deadly bacteria. But for now, he said, "we don't have enough information to know whether this could be related to terrorism or not."

Despite that uncertainty, the investigation -- which has been underway since the first man was diagnosed last week -- took a clear turn in style and tone yesterday, looking less and less like a standard public health inquiry and more like a criminal investigation.

The building where the two Florida men worked is the headquarters for American Media Inc., which publishes several supermarket tabloids, including the Globe and the Sun. The papers are known for colorful and often provocative stories, and in recent weeks have published a number of pieces that were harshly critical of Osama bin Laden.

The building was sealed by the FBI and surrounded by police tape. Inside, agents inspected desks and CDC scientists swabbed surfaces to see how far the deadly bacteria may have spread in the building.

By mapping the locations of contamination "hot spots" in the building, investigators hope to determine how the bacterial spores entered the structure. Among the options that would be under consideration, according to experts not involved in the investigation, would be intake ducts of the building's ventilation system and the area for incoming mail. A worker whose company holds a maintenance contract for the building's ventilation system said yesterday that the structure has several air intakes and that filters in the system are not designed to keep out something as small as a bacterial spore.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) was told by CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan that "human intervention" was required for the anthrax bacteria to spread to the building, a Graham spokesman said. Graham said there is no evidence that the bacteria have spread beyond the building.

Officials with the CDC and the Florida Health Department said one test had already revealed the presence of anthrax on the keyboard of the computer used by Bob Stevens, 63, the Sun photo editor who died Friday.

The business is not far from the area that once was home to several of the suspected hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Although there is no evidence that the hijackers had access to anthrax spores, they are known to have expressed interest in flying crop-duster planes.

A pharmacist in the neighborhood where the suspected hijackers had lived said yesterday that officials from the Food and Drug Administration and FBI had questioned him last week and again yesterday about a prescription for an anti-anthrax drug that he filled during the summer for a man he believes may have been one of the hijackers. But FBI officials said late yesterday they have largely discounted the pharmacist's story and do not believe that any of the hijackers received antibiotics there.

More than 400 people who had worked in or visited the tan, three-story building in recent weeks were contacted Sunday night and Monday and instructed to report to the health department in Delray Beach. Many stood in line in the rain yesterday morning, waiting to have their nostrils swabbed to test for evidence of anthrax exposure. All were given antibiotics that can prevent the disease from blossoming. Employees were also asked by FBI agents to sign consent forms allowing the agency to inspect their work stations.

More than 700 showed up and received drugs, a Palm Beach County spokeswoman said, suggesting that many nervous neighbors worked their way into the process. "A big part of this is to allay fear," she said. "If they want it, we're not going to turn people down."

The newest victim, identified by news sources as Ernesto Blanco, 73, a mail room worker, was hospitalized last week. Preliminary tests completed Friday had concluded that he did not have anthrax, but follow-up tests over the weekend revealed anthrax bacteria living in his nasal passages.

Doctors said yesterday it was not clear why Blanco had not developed full-blown anthrax despite the exposure. One possibility is that he was exposed to a very low dose and his immune system was beating the infection. Another possibility is that the microscopic clumps of bacterial spores that were apparently floating in the air were of a size slightly too large to be transported deep into his lungs, where the microbes typically germinate and start to cause disease.

Although Blanco was ill last week with an apparent respiratory infection, he lacked classic signs of full-blown anthrax, health officials said. Those officials would not discuss details of the man's case, but doctors said two signs that they look for to definitively diagnose anthrax are swollen lymph nodes in the chest, visible on an X-ray, and purple-staining rod-shaped bacteria in the blood (and, in late stages of the disease, in the spinal fluid).

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said it may never be clear whether Blanco would have gone on to develop full-blown anthrax, because the antibiotics he was taking will prevent that.

It remained unclear yesterday whether all of the many other patients that CDC investigators have been screening in hospitals in the Lantana area had proven to be free of anthrax. On Friday, an official close to the investigation had said that a third person -- an employee who worked in the AMI building but not for the Sun -- was in a Miami area hospital and was being investigated as a possible anthrax case. That person was not mentioned in yesterday's briefings.

In Prince William County, Jared Florance, the county's health director, said last night that his agency was "investigating" what disease the Northern Virginia man may have contracted. The man's name was not released.

"What we're doing is dotting our i's and crossing our t's to make sure we don't miss something," Florance said. "We're doing extra tests. With everything going on, we're being extremely cautious."

Donna Ballou, a Prince William Hospital spokeswoman, said last night that the hospital had been handling no anthrax cases.

Gilmore was alerted earlier in the evening to the possible case, which state officials emphasized was still in the earliest stages of investigation.

State officials said they had received unconfirmed reports from the Prince William area that the local man had been associated with American Media Inc., either as an employee or as a contractor. Officials said they were certain that the man had not been in Florida recently.

The anthrax bacterium lives in soil and can infect cattle, goats and sheep. In the past it has caused human disease in hide handlers and wool sorters, but in those cases, it has typically caused a version that affects the skin and is relatively benign. By contrast, inhaled anthrax kills four out of five of its victims. Symptoms can strike from a few days to two months after exposure, and antibiotics are relatively useless once those flu-like symptoms arise.

One encouraging detail was confirmed by officials yesterday: The anthrax bacteria found in the two men is fully susceptible to treatment with penicillin. Some strains of the bacteria developed by the Soviet Union decades ago were selected or designed to withstand penicillin, requiring treatment with more potent drugs such as ciprofloxacin. "Wild-type" strains from soil and most of the strains developed by Iraq for biological weapons are susceptible to penicillin.

Scientists hope that with time they will be able to conduct DNA "fingerprinting" studies on the microbes and compare the fingerprints to those from other strains collected from around the world, to help trace the origins of the Florida bugs. CDC investigators did exactly that two years ago after West Nile virus arrived in North America for the first time. They were able to show that the virus almost certainly came over accidentally from Israel or a nearby Middle Eastern country in a single event -- probably inside an imported infected bird.

AMI employees and other building workers who arrived at the health department in Delray Beach to have their noses swabbed also were asked to fill out a four-page questionnaire asking them where in the building they worked, what they did and how their health has been.

Doctors warned that with flu season coming, people should try not to get overwrought about the onset of flu-like symptoms, even though those are precisely the symptoms that can indicate an anthrax infection. But that's easier said than done, some said.

"I'm a little nervous. Crazy thoughts run through your head," said Amy Silverman, who works for a photo production company on the building's second floor. "I've been feeling sick. It feels like the flu, and it probably is. But it's scary. I'm going to my doctor tomorrow."

Federal officials stressed that they had no evidence that the infections were due to a terrorist attack. But a number of outside experts said that -- given how rare inhalation anthrax is -- the only plausible explanation was a deliberate release.

Little is known about bin Laden's capacity for waging biological warfare, but that possibility has loomed increasingly large in recent years.

Some federal officials have wondered whether chemical or biological weapons might have been a subject of discussion when Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, met last year with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. Iraq is known to have worked on the development of such weapons.

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted in the failed millennium bombings plot, testified that he learned how to feed poison gas through the air vents of an office building at a bin Laden training camp in Afghanistan.

Special correspondent Catharine Skipp and staff writers R.H. Melton, Sue Schmidt, John Mintz, Ceci Connolly, Dan Eggen, Lisa Rein and Peter Slevin contributed to this report.

American Media building was sealed off by the FBI on Sunday evening, Oct. 7, although the letter with the spores had arrived sometime around September 20th--or well over two weeks previously. Blanco had been hospitalized with flu symptoms for a week, during which Stevens sickened and died. So why the delay in testing Blanco?

October 9, 2001, New York Times, Medical Mystery; Second Case of Anthrax Leads FBI Into Inquiry, by By Dana Canedy with Alex Kucynski,

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 8— The F.B.I. took over the investigation of anthrax contamination in South Florida today after a co-worker of a man who died from the illness last week was also found to have spores of the disease.

Law enforcement officials said privately that the presence of anthrax in two co-workers, and on the computer keyboard of the man who died, was highly suspicious even though they had no evidence of criminal or terrorist activity.

In a news conference today, Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has emphasized that the public should be vigilant in the face of possible terror attacks, used careful language in describing the Florida case.

''We regard this as an investigation that could become a clear criminal investigation,'' Mr. Ashcroft said. ''We don't have enough information to know whether this could be related to terrorism or not.''

''Very frankly,'' he continued, ''we are unable to make a conclusive statement about the nature of this as either an attack or an occurrence, absent more definitive laboratory and other investigative returns.''

The F.B.I. sealed off the Boca Raton offices of American Media Inc., the supermarket tabloid publisher where the two men worked, and public health officials had hundreds of people who worked or visited there line up at the Palm Beach County Health Department in nearby Delray Beach to begin precautionary antibiotics treatment and to be tested with nasal swabs for exposure to anthrax.

Last week, Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, called the first case -- the death of Robert Stevens, 63, a layout editor at The Sun -- an isolated one and no cause for alarm. Florida officials continued today to describe the findings as isolated.

''This is not a public health threat to Palm Beach County in general,'' Warren Newell, chairman of the county's board of commissioners said at a news conference.

The state's top health care official, Dr. John O. Agwunobi, emphasized that anthrax was not contagious.

''But obviously for public health reasons we have decided to evaluate, to investigate and to protect those individuals working in that building,'' said Dr. Agwunobi, the Florida secretary of health.

But even the first anthrax case caused anxiety because it occurred within several miles of where some of the men involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had lived, taken flight lessons and looked into the purchase of a crop-dusting plane, an indication to some that the men were considering an act of bioterrorism.

Today, the F.B.I. led an aggressive investigation with health officials and representatives of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into how the American Media employees came in contact with the anthrax bacteria.

Spores were detected in the nasal cavity of Ernesto Blanco, a 73-year-old mail supervisor at The Sun who had been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, Dr. Agwunobi said. Traces of anthrax were also found on a keyboard Mr. Stevens used.

Mr. Blanco's job brought him into contact with everyone in the 67,000-square-foot American Media building. He handled almost every piece of mail and delivered them to every person's desk, shuttling his cart throughout the building, several employees said. Mr. Blanco was said to be in stable condition at an undisclosed hospital, health officials said.

David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media, said the F.B.I. told the company to tell anyone who entered the building after Aug. 1 that they must be tested. Mr. Pecker said today that the number of such people had reached 1,000.

The controlling shareholder of American Media, which also publishes The National Enquirer, is Evercore Capital Partners, which is led by Roger C. Altman, a deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration.

Several employees said F.B.I. agents asked for their computer passwords and then reviewed their computer files and e-mail messages. They said they were also asked about temporary employees.

Some employees said F.B.I. agents were told about a student intern who, when he ended his internship several weeks ago, sent a letter to the staff saying he had left something for people to remember him by. Interviewed at his parents' home near Fort Lauderdale, the former intern, a 23-year-old senior at Florida Atlantic University, said the note was simply meant to thank them. The student said he had willingly spoken with the authorities and offered to take a polygraph test.

At the health department, employees were asked to fill out questionnaires about their activities for the past two months and their movement in the building, specifically how often they visited the mailroom and library. The authorities were also testing the building's ventilation system.

Tonight, law enforcement officials said they were checking each piece of mail delivered to the publication that might have been handled by both men in a period coinciding with the incubation period for the disease. So far, the officials said, they had not found any letters or packages that seemed suspicious.

The officials said investigators had examined luggage belonging to Mohamed Atta, a hijack ringleader, that was recovered at Logan International Airport in Boston after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the bag had not been contaminated with anthrax. An anonymous handwritten letter found inside the bag was also checked, and it too was free of anthrax.

At the health department, there was the air of a company picnic gone terribly wrong, as hundreds of American Media employees lined up in front of the building drinking Gatorade from paper cups and waiting through patches of sun and rain showers to be seen by county health officials and F.B.I. investigators.

They left with a 15-day supply of Ciproflaxocin antibiotics. Several reporters said they were told to take 1,000 milligrams a day and to ask their doctors for prescriptions for 45 more days after that.

The employees will also be given blood tests to test for the disease, health officials said.

Some employees said the building should have been closed last week when anthrax was diagnosed in Mr. Stevens.

''It took five days to figure out that there was anthrax in the building,'' one employee said. ''If this is how quickly you diagnose something like this, we're in trouble.''

The employee said he believed that health authorities were being less than candid about the severity of the confirmed anthrax cases.

''Tommy Thompson can go on the air and say whatever he wants, but we are totally unprepared,'' the employee said.

Valerie Virga, a senior photo editor who is married to Steve Coz, the National Enquirer's editor in chief, said staff members were angry about the anthrax cases having been found in their workplace.

''People want to know how it got there. Who did this. Why it's there,'' Ms. Virga said. ''They want answers. They're angry at the situation.''

Photos: Employees of a publishing company lined up for tests yesterday after anthrax spores were found in a co-worker. (Gary I. Rothstein for The New York Times) (pg. A1); Roxanne Georgeoulis was one of hundreds of people tested yesterday for anthrax. (Gary I. Rothstein for The New York Times)(pg. B11)


October 9, 2001, AP, FBI Believes Anthrax Strain ManMade, by Karen Gullo,

Posted at FreeRepublic on 10/9/2001, at 9:16:10 PM by dogbyte12

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI believes the strain of anthrax that killed a tabloid newspaper editor in Florida was manmade, and tests of the 19 hijackers' possessions have found no trace of the deadly bacteria, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Investigators so far have found no evidence linking the Florida incident to terrorism, although the manufactured nature of the bacteria suggests criminal activity may be involved, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, said there was evidence that Osama bin Laden sympathizers have been performing surveillance of U.S. buildings overseas. That information and other evidence have prompted continued warnings for Americans overseas to use caution, the officials said.

President Bush was preparing to visit the FBI on Wednesday to announce the creation of a list of most wanted terrorist worldwide. Officials said the initial list would include 19 names, some whom are believed to be connected to Osama bin Laden's network.

Overseas, anti-terrorist detectives in Ireland arrested three Libyans and an Algerian at their Dublin homes on suspicion of fund raising and providing logistical support to groups linked to bin al-Qaida.

More than $13,000 in cash, documents and financial records were seized, detectives said. They were also investigating the four men's various bank accounts.

Police refused to identify the detainees, but authorities said they included:

A 39-year-old Libyan who has directed two Islamic charities in Ireland that detectives suspect have been used to pass funds to al-Qaida members.

—A 26-year-old Algerian who arrived in Ireland illegally two years ago and was previously been suspected of involvement in abortive plans to attack U.S. cities during millennium celebrations.

In Florida, there were growing signs that the appearance of anthrax at a tabloid newspaper office may not have involved terrorism, but would be treated as an isolated criminal act.

Tests so far had not found any other workers at the location who were infected, or additional spores of the bacteria except those found on the computer keyboard of the victim who died last week, officials said.

Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at The Sun newspaper, died from an anthrax he inhaled, and high-tech tests were being performed to help determine the origin of the bacteria. He died on Friday, the first such death in the United States since 1976.

Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, said officials could not say whether someone genetically manufactured the bacteria or they occurred naturally because tests weren't completed.

``We're open to the possibility of anything,'' she said, adding that anthrax tests at Stevens' home were negative.

But law enforcement officials in Washington said the strain that infected Stevens does not match any known naturally occurring version of the bacterium and was believed to be manmade.

The FBI was still investigating how the anthrax was introduced and no one has been charged.

A sweep of items belonging to suspected hijacker Mohammed Atta, who flew planes near the sight of the anthrax case, and a screening of all the hijackers possessions, cars and hotel rooms turned up no evidence that they came into contact with anthrax or other biochemical agents, the officials added.

A tiny amount of anthrax was found on a keyboard at the newspaper offices, but tests on the building's air systems and areas frequented by Stevens have turned up no further evidence of the bacteria, the officials said.


Blanco went home from the hospital on Oct. 23, having entered it on Oct. 1, 

October 26, 2001, AP - Detroit News, Treating anthrax victim was difficult, by Daniel Q. Haney, Associated Press, Friday,

Miami -- The elderly man's labored breathing and fever seemed nothing more exotic than a bad case of pneumonia. But then Dr. Carlos Omenaca got a troubling call.

It was the patient's boss at American Media Inc. A fellow employee had just been diagnosed with anthrax, he said, the deadly inhaled form of the disease.

Hardly a U.S. doctor alive had ever seen a case of inhaled anthrax. Could this be another one?

The patient was Ernesto Blanco (case 7), the 73-year-old mailroom worker, who in retrospect turned out to be the first person hospitalized in the anthrax attacks and the first to survive the inhaled form of the disease.

But on that day about three weeks ago, Omenaca, an infectious disease physician in Miami, knew only that he should add the standard antibiotic for anthrax -- Cipro -- and read up on the disease.

Blanco had arrived at Cedars Medical Center in Miami on Oct. 1, confused and feverish, his lungs so congested that he had trouble breathing. He was started on one of the class of antibiotics that includes doxycycline and similar medicines. But he did not seem to get better. So a couple of days later, Omenaca was brought in.

After the call about anthrax, Omenaca spent six hours reading. By 2 a.m., he had gone through textbooks, journals and the Internet, but he was even less sure about the diagnosis. The classic sign of anthrax is a widening of the space between the lungs. His patient did not have that.

But the hunch changed to near certainty over the next three days. Dangerous new symptoms convinced the doctor he was dealing with inhaled anthrax, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not be certain of this for another two weeks. The antibiotics had already killed the bacteria, and several painstaking tests were needed to prove it had ever been there.

By the time he started on Cipro, Blanco's breathing had grown still more difficult. He required extremely high doses of oxygen. Then his heart became irregular. It raced to 180 beats per minute, and he was moved to intensive care.

Doctors removed fluid from his lungs. It was bloody, a possible sign of anthrax or other dangerous infection.

A nasal swab added another piece of circumstantial evidence. It showed anthrax spores in Blanco's nose.

Finally, the most ominous sign of all. Blanco's blood pressure crashed, sending him into shock.

"I was near death. I felt physically, and in my soul, that I was leaving this world," Blanco recalled Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press at his North Miami home.

Doctors labored to keep him alive with large amounts of fluids and vasopressors, drugs that boost blood pressure.

But that was the low point. Over the next week, Blanco began to rally, improving almost imperceptibly each day.

Finally, Blanco was better.

This past Tuesday, (Oct. 23) Omenaca sent him home with 10 more days worth of Cipro.

"Considering the circumstances, I feel good," Blanco said Thursday between intermittent bouts of coughing. "I had many difficult, difficult days in the hospital, but I'm here."


October 26, 2001, (Issue date: Oct. 30) National Enquirer, Every American's Worst Nightmare By the People Who Lived It,

AFTER TUCKING their children into bed and tending to last-minute chores, American Media employees settled down for a good night's sleep -- when suddenly jangling phones all over South Florida shattered the late-night tranquility.

The phone calls changed our lives forever. Shaken managers were alerting AMI employees that our Boca Raton headquarters had been sealed off after government investigators discovered the presence of anthrax spores -- and we might be infected.

Every American's worst nightmare had jolted us wide-awake -- we were victims of a bioterrorist attack. The instructions were short but painfully clear: The next morning, October 8 at 9 a.m., every employee who worked in the AMI headquarters was to report to the health department in nearby Delray Beach to get tested and receive preventative antibiotics.

Some wept softly. Others hugged their spouse. Many peeked into their children's bedrooms to be reassured by the sound of their soft breathing.

With that chilling news, AMI employees began a journey that took them on a roller-coaster ride of emotions -- fear, anger, frustration, sadness. Ultimately, those reactions gave way to a new set of emotions -- a determination to fight back … a new spirit of kinship with co-workers … a resolve to show the world that Americans cannot be cowed by terrorism.

As one ENQUIRER editor, Martha Warwick, put it: "My first thought was, 'My God, we've just become one of our own headlines.' "

Here is how AMI employees are facing the crisis:

Ernesto Blanco dreamed about a hot cup of Cuban coffee. Stephanie Dailey turned to prayer -- and reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show."

The two mailroom co-workers, the second and third employees found to have been exposed to anthrax, are true profiles in courage.

"President Bush said to keep on living your life and that's what I'm doing. If you're afraid, the terrorists win," Stephanie told The ENQUIRER. "I've been praying," adds the gutsy 36-year-old, whose dad is a Protestant pastor.

"Sometimes I just have to turn off the news. There's a lot of misinformation out there. I've been watching the cable station that shows old 'Andy Griffith Show' and 'The Dick Van Dyke Show.' "

While escaping to Mayberry helps Stephanie, Ernesto -- Ernie to everyone who knows him -- keeps on thinking about getting back to the job.

He is a familiar face to AMI employees. The sprightly senior, who fled the horrors of Fidel Castro back in the 1960s, delivered the mail throughout our three-story headquarters.

"He works so hard," says Mireya Throop, an ENQUIRER researcher. "And when he found out I was Cuban, he said, 'I knew a body like that had to belong to a Cuban woman.' What a flirt -- and at age 73 to boot!"

In late September, Ernie came down with pneumonia, and doctors discovered traces of anthrax spores in his nose. Hospitalized in Miami, he kept telling relatives, "I just want to get back to the job."

The words brought smiles to his family because that was Ernie being Ernie.

"He's amazing," his stepson Raphael Miguel told The ENQUIRER. "Every day he runs two long blocks uphill to catch the train in Miami and then he walks two miles from the train station in Boca Raton to the office.

"He's been asking for Cuban coffee. That's how we know he's going to be O.K."

By October 4, when the world learned that AMI employee Bob Stevens had contracted deadly anthrax, Ernie was well on the road to recovery.

His mailroom co-worker Stephanie was screened with other AMI employees for exposure to anthrax -- and got the word on October 10 that spores had been found in her nasal passages.

She was on the job when the news was delivered by an FBI agent, a state cop, and two public health doctors.

But she didn't panic. She wasn't sick. She asked a lot of questions and got assurances the antibiotics she had been given by public health officials would keep her well. Then she responded like a true American. She didn't run -- she went back to work.

"I was just trying to come to grips," said Stephanie who suddenly found she was a media star as the networks beat a path to her door.

With justifiable pride, Ernie's stepson Luis Miguel notes: "Ernie, Stephanie and the others are proof to the world that you can beat terrorism. In some ways, that's more significant than the bombs being dropped on Afghanistan."

When Martha Warwick, who designs pages for The ENQUIRER, headed home from the AMI building on Friday, October 5, she looked forward to a fun weekend, but soon found herself trapped in a real-life horror movie.

"I was just glad to have two days to try and catch up on all the things that pile up when you work full-time and have three young children," said Martha. "There's soccer, homework, birthdays, sleepovers, Scouts and a million other things to do.

"On Sunday there was a blessing of the animals at our church and we were taking our dog. My kids were ecstatic. Animals in church. What a fun day we had!"

But the fun was swiftly forgotten after a 1:30 a.m. phone call.

"I was sound asleep," recalled Martha. "Needless to say, the ringing got my heart pounding. And when I was told not to report to work on what is normally our busiest workday, but to report to the health department for testing and to bring my children with me if they had been in the building since August 1 -- I was in shock.

"I frantically tried to remember when my children had been in the building. I knew they had only been there one time, but I was having a hard time thinking clearly. Then I remembered the exact day, August 13. I remembered because it was the last day of their summer vacation and I had taken the day off, and they wanted to see my office."

It was hours before Martha could calm herself to get a few winks of sleep -- and the next morning she got a rude awakening.

The health department had asked some 500 AMI employees to show up at their headquarters to get their nostrils swabbed -- a test for the presence of anthrax spores -- and to receive preventative antibiotics. But they were not prepared for the onslaught, recalls Martha, and coping with young children made matters worse.

"Even before we left the house, my 8-year-old was giving me the third degree: 'Why do we have to go there? Who are these people? Why can't I go to school? I'm going to miss social studies.' "

For hours, a huge crowd was outside the health department building.

After a couple of hours the Red Cross showed up. For ENQUIRER photo assistant Christine Visoke their arrival drove home the urgency of the situation.

"Seeing the Red Cross set up tents with food and drink for us standing out in the sun, it finally struck me -- this is a real disaster. It also touched me to know people cared."

A couple of miles away at AMI headquarters, investigators in protective "space suits" were poring over every inch of our workspaces.

Quarantined inside were the tools of our trade -- our computers, our reporter notes, our research facilities, our photo library with more than a million pictures.

As we waited to be tested, we also worried about getting out the paper. It was Monday -- the day we had to get the issue to the printer.

Said ENQUIRER Senior Editor Edward Sigall: "We were deeply worried about our own health and the health of family members who had visited out building. But we were also concerned about getting out the paper -- it was an obligation we owed to each other and to our readers."

In its long history, The ENQUIRER had never missed an issue and the staff was resolved not to let it happen now. Executives had worked through the night hammering out plans -- some of us would work at home, some at our business office and some at a production facility.

We would rely on modern electronics -- and an army of computer wizards -- to link us up.

As people finished their medical test, they reported to their assigned facility and got to work. Deadline pressure is usually intense, but this Monday it was multiplied many times over as we grappled with our worst fears.

With help from the Internet, we all got quick lessons in the symptoms of anthrax. Over the next few days, panic swept through several hearts when staff members or their children came down with cold symptoms.

"I got the sniffles -- which the medical literature says can be the first warning sign of anthrax," said ENQUIRER Senior Reporter Patricia Towle. "After calming myself, I called a doctor at the health department. I asked her, 'Do I have anything to worry about?' She said she'd call me back."

The expert checked Towle's swab test and called her back with a clean bill of health. "I breathed a sigh of relief -- between sneezes," she says.

Vanessa Anne Hroch, a payroll specialist, said, "I received so many phone calls from friends and family who had seen AMI on the news. My family was very worried but I reassured them and told them that I was fine."

Two days after the nasal swab tests, ENQUIRER employees were called back for blood tests. The tests reveal whether anyone else had developed antibodies to anthrax, indicating they may have been exposed to the bacteria. At press time, results on these tests had not yet all come in.

Ruth Bloom, a proofreader for The ENQUIRER, added, "There is only one bright spot in all this horror. After receiving many calls from family, friends and even an ex-husband, you are heartened by how many people really care and are concerned about your welfare."

Confided reporter Towle: "The only thing that has gotten me through this is my own work and my colleagues at AMI. We're all sticking together, and we'll get through this."

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