In the wake of the 2001 September 11 al Qaeda attacks on the U.S., five anonymous letters containing a deadly strain of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) were mailed via the U.S. Postal Service to major media outlets in Florida and New York, and to the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. This bioterrorist attack killed 5 people: Robert Stevens from the Sun, Thomas Morris, Jr. and Joseph Curseen, Jr. from the Brentwood postal facility in D.C., Kathy Nguyen from the Bronx, and Ottilie Lundgren from Oxford, Connecticut. At least 18 others were infected and thousands of people who worked in newsrooms, Congress, and postal facilities, as well as those in private homes, were also affected by possible contamination.
This topic is difficult to write about since it brings up a traumatic event and feelings of helplessness for many us, including myself. I showed up on Capitol Hill to start my new job at the Library as the Senate building incident was unfolding. Still, it is important to recognize what happened and what became of the many investigations of who was responsible.
To help us better understand these attacks and the subsequent investigations, Jeanne Guillemin, Senior Advisor to Security Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be at the Library’s Pickford Theater on April 3 from 12:30-1:30 to discuss her recently published book American Anthrax: Fear, Crime, and the Investigation of the Nation’s Deadliest Bioterrorist Attack (Macmillian/Henry Holt, 2011). Guillemin’s background in anthropology and sociology allows her to focus on the human response and reaction of this biological attack and her expertise of infectious diseases gives a meticulous scientific analysis of the investigations. For more detailed information about this book talk see our press release.
In addition to her research on the American Anthrax case, Guillemin has also investigated, at length, the 1979 Sverdlovsk (Russia) anthrax outbreak which she published in Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak (University of California Press, 1999). She has also published a history of biological weapons programs in Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism (Columbia University Press, 2005).
If you cannot make it to the book talk, it will be recorded and available for viewing shortly after on the Library’s science and technology webcast page and Topics in Science Playlist from our Youtube channel.
(Update: The webcast of this book talk is now available : Library’s webcast page: American Anthrax and LC YouTube channel Topics in Science: American Anthrax )
And if you are interested in learning more about the history, nature, toxicity, and physical effects of biological weapons, as well as international treaties and related documents check out our Chemical and Biological Warfare guide that will lead you to resources on these topics.