Biology:Anthrax hoaxes

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Anthrax hoaxes involving the use of white powder or labels to falsely suggest the use of anthrax are frequently reported in the United States and globally. Hoaxes have increased following the 2001 anthrax attacks, after which no genuine anthrax attacks have occurred. The FBI and U.S. postal inspectors have responded to thousands of "white powder events" and targets have included government offices, US embassies, banks and news organizations.[1][2]


Anthrax hoaxes were sporadically reported in the 1990s,[3] including a petri dish in an envelope labeled "anthrachs"[sic] sent to B'nai B'rith in Washington in 1997 that contained harmless Bacillus cereus,[4][5][6] but a spate of anthrax threats followed the 1998 arrest of Larry Wayne Harris, a microbiologist and white supremacist. Harris released what he said was military-grade anthrax but was actually a harmless vaccine strain, but news coverage popularized the idea of anthrax among hoaxers.[7][8] In response to these hoaxes, the CDC released guidance for public health authorities for handling bioterrorism threats.[9]


Suspect letter with white powder that was dealt with by Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management emergency responders. It was a hoax.

In the month following the 2001 anthrax attacks, hundreds of hoaxes were reported worldwide.[10][11][12] Legislation was enacted in the UK in October 2001 so that anyone convicted of a hoax involving threats of biological, chemical, nuclear or radioactive contamination would face a seven-year prison sentence.[13] The Anti-Hoax Terrorism Act 2001 was passed by the US House of Representatives[14] but never enacted,[15] and legislation making terrorism hoaxes a federal offence was finally passed as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.[16][17][18]


One of the most prolific hoaxers was Clayton Waagner, an anti-abortion activist who mailed hundreds of anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics in late 2001[19] and who was convicted in December 2003.[20][21] A Sacramento man, Marc M. Keyser, admitted to sending around 120 packages marked as containing anthrax in October 2008, which he says was to highlight the lack of preparedness of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and public for an anthrax attack. He was convicted in September 2009 of five counts of hoaxes and making threats[22][23] and sentenced to four years in prison in late April 2010.[24]

In November 2008, white powder was mailed to temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, causing both to be closed temporarily while the mailings were investigated. There was speculation the mailings were in protest of the church's support for Proposition 8.[25]

Notable recipients of anthrax hoax letters include journalist Judith Miller, author of Germs, who received one at the New York Times offices in October 2001.[26]


  1. Drogin, Bob (8 March 2009). "Anthrax hoaxes pile up, as does their cost". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  2. Cole, Leonard A. (2009). The Anthrax Letters: A Bioterrorism Expert Investigates the Attacks That Shocked America--Case Closed?. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60239-715-6. 
  3. Carus, W. Seth; Center for Counterproliferation Research; National Defense University (2002). "Thrreatened Use (Anthrax Hoaxes)". Bioterrorism and biocrimes: the illicit use of biological agents since 1900. 8. The Minerva Group, Inc.. ISBN 1-4101-0023-5. 
  4. Wald, Matthew L. (24 April 1997). "Suspicious Package Prompts 8-Hour Vigil at B'nai B'rith". New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  5. Bailey, Ronald (10 October 2001). "Anthrax Attack?". Reason. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  6. Kristof, Nicholas D. (12 July 2002). "The Anthrax Files". New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  7. Tucker, Jonathan B. (July 1999). "Historical trends related to bioterrorism: An empirical analysis". Emerging Infectious Diseases (CDC) 5 (4): 498–504. doi:10.3201/eid0504.990406. PMID 10458952. PMC 2627752. 
  8. "The Harris Hoax". ADL. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (1999). "Bioterrorism Alleging Use of Anthrax and Interim Guidelines for Management -- United States, 1998". MMWR (CDC) 48 (4): 69–74. PMID 10023627. 
  10. Leask, Alexander; Valerie Delpech; Jeremy McAnulty (2003). "Anthrax and other suspect powders: Initial responses to an outbreak of hoaxes and scares". New South Wales Public Health Bulletin (Csiro Publishing) 14 (12): 218–221. doi:10.1071/NB03059. 
  11. Harris, Paul (21 October 2001). "Anthrax hoax chaos". The Observer (London). Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  12. Kasindorf, Martin; Toni Locy (6 November 2001). "Anthrax hoaxes persist despite arrests". USA Today. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  13. Murphy, Joe (21 October 2001). "Spore hoaxers face jail terms from today". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  14. DePledge, Derrick (14 November 2001). "DeWine proposes tough law on anthrax hoaxes". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  15. "H.R. 3209: Anti-Hoax Terrorism Act of 2001". Govtrack. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  16. "Violators of Military Hoaxes Act could receive fines, prison time". CID Lookout. U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  17. Eggen, Dan (10 December 2004). "Measure Expands Police Powers". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 December 2009. [yes|permanent dead link|dead link}}]
  18. "S. 2845: Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004". Govtrack. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  19. "US anthrax hoax suspect arrested". BBC News. 6 December 2001. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  20. "Man is convicted in anthrax hoax case". Associated Press. 3 December 2003. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  21. Clarkson, Frederick (10 December 2003). "The quiet fall of an American terrorist". Salon. Archived from the original on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  22. Walsh, Denny (18 September 2009). "Sacramentan convicted for sending anthrax hoax messages". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 10 December 2009.  [|permanent dead link|dead link}}]
  23. "Calif. man convicted in nationwide anthrax scare". Salon. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2009. [yes|permanent dead link|dead link}}]
  24. "". 
  25. "White powder sent to Mormon temples". Associated Press. 13 November 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  26. Herbert, Bob (15 October 2001). "In America; Living With Fear". New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 

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