What don't we know about the Anthrax
attack (but think we know)?
1. We do not know when the first Anthrax
attack was launched. Nor do we know its where it was
launched. Robert Stevens, the first known victim (and
fatality), was admitted to a Florida Hospital on Oct
2, 2001. Since the incubation period can be up to six
weeks, he could have been exposed either before or after
the September 11th attack. Anthrax spores were found
in the mail room of his employer, American Media, and
microscopic traces at a local post office, so it is
assumed the anthrax that infected him came by mail.
But no letter was ever found containing traces of anthrax
at American Media, so it is not known when it was sent.
2. We do not know how Anthrax got to the many places,
including CBS, Governor George Pataki's secure office,
the skin of a child of an ABC producer or the longs of
the NY hospital worker fatality. No letter was ever found
that related to any of these cases.
3. Although we know the date and proximate origin of the
mailing of 3 anthrax-laden letters— the ones to NBC, the
NY Post, and Senator Tom Daschle— which were all mailed
from the same mail box in Trenton, NJ, over a one week
period— we do not know whether or not the person who mailed
these letters prepared or even injected the anthrax in
them himself or received them in ziplock sealed bags from
another source. So they could have been prepared, and
even addressed, anywhere in the world.
4. We do not know the precise kind of the anthrax used
in the attacks. All the tested anthrax spores are consistent
with the virulent Ames strain, but there are many sub-varieties.
Homeland Security director Tom Ridge said that the strains
used in the Florida, New York and Washington attacks,
while "indistinguishable," were not identical. And Anthony
Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Disease, described the strains as "Ames-like." The problem
here is the variations. Each time a bacterium divides,
it makes a new copy of its DNA, but with a chance for
error in the replication. These cloning errors occur with
different frequency in different parts of the DNA, ranging
between one per thousand replications to one per 100,000
replications. These samples have not, as yet, been DNA
sequenced. If they had been DNA sequenced, the variations
could indicate whether they came from a small batch (in
which case there would be few changes) or a gigantic batch
consistent with a state-run military program (in which
case there would be many more changes.) But without such
DNA sequencing, we do not have any idea of the size of
5. We do not know how far the Trenton-NY-Florida variants
deviates from the "family tree" of the original Ames strain.
As incredible as it sounds, Iowa State University, which
was the custodian of the Ames Collection, destroyed its
samples right after the Anthrax attack. Neither the FBI
or CDC objected to this destruction of this vital evidence
(since this lab might have been the source). As a result,
it is no longer possible to thoroughly trace the origin
of the anthrax in the attack, or determine how many approximate
variations occurred in it.
6. Without the Ames Collection, possible sources cannot
7. We do not know how the anthrax, was milled fine enough—
one 20th of a human hair— to create an aerosol in at least
one letter. We therefore don't know what equipment, including
separating, freezing, drying, cutting and filtering apparatus,
might be needed for the process.
8. We do not know how the anthrax, once milled, was injected
into the envelopes.
9. We do not know how many people, if more than one, are
involved in the attack
a) It could have been taken from the Ames strain
of anthrax from a US lab, such as Iowa State. In addition
to Iowa State only four other labs in America are
known to have the infectious Ames strain— the CDC
in Atlanta, the US Army Medical Research Institute
at Fort Detrick in Maryland, and the labs at Louisiana
State University and Northern Arizona University.
b) It could have been a foreign military anthrax
program, either known (Britain) or unknown.
c) It could have been taken a dead deer or other
animal anywhere in the world.
10. We don't know the actual purpose of the anthrax
attack. It could be
a) to inflict physical or psychic damage on America.
b) to probe our bio-terrorism defenses in preparation
for a larger-scale attack.
c) or, like a kidnapping, to set the stage for a
future ultimatum or ransom demand.