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Counterterrorism: The Amerithrax Investigation of 2001 Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2020

There was a biological attack on Americans in September 2001. Letters laced with Anthrax spores were mailed to different locations in the country. Those near the letters when they were opened suffered harsh consequences. Five people died while under medication. This was because the doctors did not understand what they were trying to treat this treatment was more of a fire fighting exercise than an exercise with a purpose.

Seventeen others fell seriously ill and were admitted to hospitals across the country. However, these people recovered and returned to their normal lives. This incident scared Americans so much that a 9-year long investigation was launched and formally concluded in February 2010. This investigation was run by the DOJ in conjunction with the FBI(Gottlieb, Arenberg, & Singh, 1994).

The letters containing the anthrax spores were sent in two shifts. The first set was sent to media houses in the US. The media houses were ABC News, AMI, New York Post, CBS News, and NBC News. The authorities believed that they had been posted from Trenton as they each had a New Jersey postmark. The second round of letters was sent to Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle. The two were Democrat senators of South Dakota and Vermont.

Both the senators were lucky since they did not personally open the letters. One letter got lost in the mail and was discovered a month later by a postal worker who was not so lucky. He contracted the disease via inhalation. The second was discovered just in time by a government aide. This letter was isolated and its contents were cleaned. The aide was wearing protective clothing and was not harmed by the spores.

The anthrax spores sent to the senators were more harmful than those sent to the media houses since they were almost pure. This led scientists to wrongly conclude that the spores had been laced with silica. The FBI and the United States Department of Justice are the agencies that carried on with the investigation until the end. The conclusion reached was that one Dr. Bruce Ivins was responsible for the biological attack. He was a 62-year-old scientist who worked at a government laboratory. He had worked at the same biodefense center for over twenty years. The suspect committed suicide in 2008 before the case was closed.

Dr. Ivins is hiding some hate messages in the letters which were photocopies. The handwriting looked like a child’s and some letters were traced over with tracing paper as if to highlight them. One of the hate messages was an insult to the City of New York. Colleagues confirmed that the doctor hated the city. This would explain why he sent four letters to media houses in the city. The second coded message translated to the doctor’s nickname.

When the FBI concentrated the investigation on him, the doctor threw a book in his trash which had lessons on coded language, the kind that had been used in the letters. He also sterilized his lab twice in an attempt to cover his tracks.

The suspect was reported to have several mental health problems which could have led to his suicide. His psychiatrist also reported to the police that the doctor had expressed an intention to poison his assistant the year before the attacks. However, he did not make good on this threat. His colleagues also pointed out that the Ivins had a habit of driving long distances to post letters so that they could not be traced to him (Analysts, Massachusetts Association of Crime, 2008).

The agencies constructed a schedule for Bruce Ivins. This schedule indicated that he worked for more than double his overtime in the months preceding the attacks. This gave him sufficient time to experiment with and prepare the anthrax spores in time for the attacks. Laboratory records also showed that the only flask containing anthrax spores was under Dr. Ivin’s care and he worked unsupervised. These factors together with his suicide which could have been an act of guilt led to his being declared the sole suspect for the investigation in 2008.

The destinations to which the contaminated letters had been sent had to be cleaned up with chlorine dioxide gas. This was a costly exercise and cost up to $1billion. One media house had to relocate. The cleaning was time-consuming and it took up to 26 months per building. Some of the victims never fully recovered from the attacks, reporting instances of fatigue, and loss of memory (United States Department of Justice, 2010).

There were more than 1000 suspects at the beginning of the investigation. The FBI and DOJ were trying to catch the perpetrator of this crime and establish the motive. Several times they were misled by copycat criminals who sent similar letters. However, eventually, all the evidence pointed to Dr. Ivins. The Doctor’s wife also ran a day-care center for children under 6 years. The handwriting on the letters resembled a child’s and the doctor could easily have got one of the day-care children to write the letters before photocopying them. Though the agencies finally concluded that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator, they will never know why he committed the crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation worked alongside several other agencies in this case. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the scientific methods used by the FBI in analyzing the spore samples. The latter agency is a branch of The National Research Council. The U.S Postal Inspection Service assisted in checking the mail in the postal system for traces of anthrax. The Department of Justice also provided some full-time detectives to assist in the case (Analysts, Massachusetts Association of Crime, 2008).

There are still some questions left unanswered though the case was formally closed. There are speculations as to whether the White House had intelligence concerning the attacks well in advance. This is because all the staff in the White House was put on a compulsory antibiotic two weeks before the attacks began. This was a preventive measure of some sort. However, no evidence to support this allegation has been uncovered yet. Therefore, Americans can only believe the FBI’s report and hope this never happens again (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010).

References

Analysts, Massachussets Association of Crime. (2008). Introduction to Crime Analysis. Web.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2010). FBI Official Website. Web.

Gottlieb, S. L., Arenberg, S., & Singh, R. (1994). Crime Analysis : From First Report to Final Arrest. Montclair: Alpha Publishing.

United States Department of Justice. (2010). Department of Justice. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Counterterrorism: The Amerithrax Investigation of 2001." December 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/counterterrorism-the-amerithrax-investigation-of-2001/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Counterterrorism: The Amerithrax Investigation of 2001." December 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/counterterrorism-the-amerithrax-investigation-of-2001/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Counterterrorism: The Amerithrax Investigation of 2001'. 29 December.

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