October 09, 2001

Second Anthrax Infection Discovered It's just starting to get the attention it deserves (last night, at least, it only appeared in "The Other News" bottom section of the Washington Post front page, for instance), but the Florida inhalation anthrax death of Bob Stevens last Friday looks almost certain to be the first casualty of what might be the bioterrorism phase of the attacks. Stevens was a photo editor for American Media, publishers of numerous tabloids including The National Enquirer. In a situation unfortunately similar to the September 11 attacks, any slim chance that Stevens' death on Friday might have been an isolated, naturally occurring incident were erased when a second anthrax-infected worker in the same office building was diagnosed (anthrax cannot be transmitted from person to person). Of course, the chances seemed microscopically slim anyway, considering that it was the first case of inhalation anthrax in 25 years (the last one was in California), and that Stevens lived about a mile from where Mohamed Atta rented planes.

There are two leads being announced by officials. The first involved what at first appeared to be a Jennifer Lopez fan letter that received by the office in early September. The letter is said to have been handled by Stevens and Ernesto Blanco, the second infected man (Blanco works in the mailroom). The letter was coated with a "soapy, powdery substance" and contained a Star of David charm.

This news comes at the same time that news of two similar Florida incidents was announced. This past weekend, two Hialeah households received mysterious envelopes containing a white powder. Though four people in the households felt ill (complaints and symptoms included fever, difficulty breathing, and a burning sensation in the throat) and were taken to a hospital for observation, tests of the powder have as yet revealed no chemical or biological toxins. [Thanks to Mike Whybark for passing along these articles, which were originally sent by Rev. Spencer Sundell.]

The second lead involves a Middle Eastern man who interned for American Media this past summer:

NEWSWEEK has learned that the FBI is aggressively trying to locate a summer intern from nearby Florida Atlantic University in connection with the investigation. The intern, who sources said came from a Middle Eastern country, had sent an e-mail to all employees that a top American Media official described as "peculiar." The e-mail thanked company employees for the help he gave them, but then contained language suggesting that he wasn't saying goodbye. Another company official recalled the email as having a sense of "foreboding" and referring to a "surprise" or "something that he left behind."

Significantly, the timing of the incidents means that at the very least the contamination took place some time before Sunday's US/UK retaliation in Afghanistan, and quite possibly even before September 11, if either of the above is, in fact, the true source. And though I'm not sure I agree with all of his assumptions (those being that the origin was the admittedly more likely letter, and that the hijackers were also the mailers), Glenn Reynolds of the indispensable InstaPundit.com believes that the attacks might actually be "good news" (see the 10/8 10:00 p.m. posting).

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