In The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, journalist Ronald Kessler reveals startling new inside information about the FBI — from J. Edgar Hoover's blackmailing of Congress to the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks. The excerpt below gives an inside view of the bureau's reaction to terrorism.
Chapter 36, "The Marine"
At 2:20 a.m. on October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens, a sixty-three-year- old photo editor at tabloid publisher American Media, was admitted to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida. Vomiting and confused, he had a 102 fever. The next day, doctors determined that Stevens had contracted anthrax by inhaling spores. On October 4, doctors called a press conference to announce the confirmation of anthrax. They believed Stevens to be an isolated case. Perhaps he had contracted it in the woods.
A day before Stevens was admitted, Erin M. O'Connor, a thirty- eight-year-old assistant to Tom Brokaw, went to the doctor with a low- grade fever and a bad rash. The doctor suspected anthrax and prescribed Cipro. That same day, Ernesto Blanco, seventy-three, an American Media mail room employee, was hospitalized with pneumonia. By October 5, Stevens had died, the first known anthrax fatality in the United States since 1976.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found anthrax spores on Stevens's computer keyboard and in Blanco's nasal passages. The agency decided that the American Media building should be sealed.
Soon, there were more anthrax cases, from Washington to New York. At first, it seemed to be another attack by bin Laden. Unlike the September 11 cases, Mueller allowed the Washington Field Office to direct the anthrax investigation. The case did not appear to have the global dimensions of the terrorist attacks. Agents headed by Bradley Garrett, who had been working on the disappearance of Chandra Levy and a possible obstruction of justice charge against Representative Gary Condit, were pulled off the celebrated case.
The FBI traced the new anthrax cases to letters addressed to Brokaw, to Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, to Senator Patrick Leahy, and to other news outlets. The letters went through mail-processing facilities in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, and the Washington sorting center on Brentwood Road. Through cross contamination, traces of anthrax turned up at mail rooms used by the White House, the State Department, the CIA, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings. More traces were found at the Morgan Station postal facility in Manhattan and at other sorting centers in New York. Spores turned up at ABC and CBS as well.
At one point, the House suspended work, and three Senate office buildings were closed. In all, eighteen people contracted anthrax, either though skin contact or inhalation. Five died.
On September 25, more than a week before any anthrax cases had been detected, NBC security called the New York Field Office about a letter addressed to Brokaw containing white powder. The letter was mailed on September 20 in St. Petersburg, Florida. O'Connor, Brokaw's assistant, opened it. It turned out that this letter, unlike the second one she opened, was a hoax. It contained talcum powder.