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The FBI’s lead suspect in the September, 2001 anthrax attacks — Bruce E. Ivins — died Tuesday night, apparently by suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to charge him with responsibility for the attacks. For the last 18 years, Ivins was a top anthrax researcher at the U.S. Government’s biological weapons research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, where he was one of the most elite government anthrax scientists on the research team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID).
The 2001 anthrax attacks remain one of the great mysteries of the post-9/11 era. After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters — with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 — that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax — sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets — that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.
If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks. This was the letter sent to Brokaw: