FBI investigators, who combined it with physicochemical analyses to narrow their search for the source of the anthrax used in the attacks.1
In 2008, seven years into the Amerithrax investigation, the FBI asked the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct an independent review of the scientific approaches used during the investigation of the 2001 B. anthracis mailings (see Box 1-1).
During the course of the NRC committee’s deliberations, the DOJ announced on February 19, 2010, that it was closing the case based on its conclusion that Dr. Bruce Ivins, a scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), had alone perpetrated the anthrax attacks. Dr. Ivins died on July 29, 2008 after taking an overdose of over-the-counter medications.
The committee carried out its work mindful of the need to identify lessons that could be learned for future investigations in which science might play an important role.
Public health officials in Florida announced on October 4, 2001, that Robert Stevens, a photo editor at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, had inhalational anthrax. This was the first reported case of inhalational anthrax in the United States in almost 25 years. After one of Stevens’s coworkers, Ernesto Blanco, also fell ill and was diagnosed as having contracted anthrax, environmental assessments were made of the AMI facility. These assessments revealed B. anthracis contamination and postexposure prophylactic treatment was administered to AMI employees. No contaminated letter was ever found; it is thought to have been discarded after being opened (CDC, 2001a). A timeline of this and subsequent events is presented in Table 1-1.
Less than two weeks later, additional cases of apparent anthrax exposure began to appear in New York City. These cases indicated the possible source of the exposure as most of those infected had come into contact with letters containing a powder. The New York letters addressed to Tom Brokaw of NBC News and the New York Post had a Trenton, New Jersey, postmark dated September 18, 2001. Sampling of U.S. Postal Service drop boxes in the Trenton area found anthrax spores in only one mailbox, on Nassau Street in Princeton (see Chapter 3).
A second wave of mailings caused additional cases of anthrax. Two more anthrax letters bearing the same Trenton postmark, but dated October 9, 2001, were addressed to Democratic U.S. Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and
1 In 2008 the National Bioforensic Analysis Center was established in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center to assist in microbial forensics investigations.