Whereas the sponsorship of the anthrax attacks remain a mystery, the attacker presumably gained knowledge about the vulnerabilities of the United States. What would a hostile state, especially one intent on developing a deterrent against an American attack (or an American reprisal for 9/11), have learned?


A hostile state would have determined that:

1) The US postal system is an effective delivery system for an anonymous biological attack. Letters carrying dry anthrax spores can be mailed to targeted buildings in America from any place in the world. So a hostile state would not need to possess intercontinental missiles or bombers to make such a threat credible.

2) Anthrax can paralyze parts of the American economy, even if does not inflict mass casualties, by closing down vital buildings and communication links.

The first anthrax delivery to American Media in Florida demonstrated that when anthrax is not identified by a warning letter, it is not likely to be immediately identified or contained. (The time that elapsed between its delivery and its identification is known to the attacker.)

The second anthrax delivery in September to NBC and the New York Post demonstrated that when warning letters are included a media frenzy can be induced.

The third anthrax delivery of anthrax to the offices of Senators Daschle and Leahy was in a weaponized form that turned into an aerosol. It demonstrated that key government buildings can be totally immobilized and that their decontamination requires several months.

Further, these two letters containing weaponized anthrax demonstrated that the processing of mail in sorting centers produces cross-contamination. A post office facility as far away as Wallingford, Conn. reported a cluster of 3 million anthrax spores on its ceiling. From these disruptions, a hostile state could extrapolate the damage caused by a mass mailing of weaponized anthrax to a wide range of buildings, with and without warning letters, including the paralysis of the postal system in the United States.

3) The probes with warning letters also demonstrated that, even when anthrax was immediately identified, medical defenses could not be counted on. The only available vaccine required injections over several months to be completely effective and the distribution of the antibiotic Cipro ran the risk of creating resistant strains of the bacteria. So infected buildings would have to be shut down.

4) The attacks also demonstrated that the US did not have the means to identify their source.

Eleven months after Robert Stevens was murdered by anthrax in Florida, the FBI still had not fully searched the initial crime scene for the delivery vehicle. Instead, the entire building was shut down and quarantined. Only in late August 2002 did the FBI re-enter the building to continue the search.

On August 30th, 2002, the AP reported "Clad in white protective suits, investigators set up devices inside the quarantined former headquarters of the National Enquirer yesterday to take samples and search for clues in last fall's anthrax attack."

By using the Ames strain, which originally had been cultured in America, and then sent to both American and foreign research labs, the attacker also led the FBI to focus its investigation on the possibility of American rather than foreign perpetrators. The FBI was not able to find the laboratory used to grow the billions of spores from a sample of the Ames strain. This facility also had to sequentially filter these to produce a uniform size as minute as one micron (a length one-millionth of a meter) and treat the spores through a material science technology, such as coating or vacuum-freezing, so that they would become a lethal aerosol. The perpetrator might therefore assume that he would have a cloak of deniability if not anonymity, in future attacks.