- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

A second sneeze-bomb of anthrax exploded this weekend, when it was confirmed that Erin O'Connor, an assistant to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, had been infected with anthrax.
It appears that Miss O'Connor acquired the cutaneous (skin-level) form of anthrax after opening a threatening letter. If that envelope contained the anthrax-causing Bacillus anthracis bacteria, a cut on Miss O'Connor's skin could have easily given it the entrance it needed. She is being treated with antibiotics, which should help her fully recover from the infection.
The anthrax may well have come from al Qaeda operatives. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times recently reported that he had been told by a senior defense official, "What we believe is that they [al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan] have a crude chemical and possibly biological [weapons] capability."
While it appears that anthrax was not contained within a suspicious envelope recently mailed to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, it certainly was contained in a letter mailed to a Microsoft subsidiary in Reno, Nev. Investigators are attempting to determine if the attack in Reno was linked to the anthrax attack in New York and to the anthrax attack which occurred at the American Media building in Boca Raton, Fla. earlier this month.
This certainly appears to be a coordinated campaign of biological warfare, albeit with crude weapons. Indeed, those who perpetuated this series of outrages appear to have been aiming at mass disruption rather than mass destruction. They seem to have been counting on the lightning-like responses of the 24-hour news cycle to arouse terror across America. It is a maddening operational concept two anthrax infections are all that is needed to strike fear into the hearts of millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, the FBI must bear some blame for not acting more quickly. According to The New York Times, the bureau was notified the day that the suspicious letter was received at NBC studios (Sept. 25), and yet, it did nothing for two weeks refusing to test either the letter or the powdery substance within. It only deigned to notice the smoking gun in front of its face after a private doctor notified city public-health officials about Miss O'Connor's skin condition.
Despite Miss O'Connor's infection, it is worth remembering that the skin is merely one part of the multi-layered defenses that the body has against disease-causing bacteria. Moreover, part of what made bacteria-caused diseases (such as the bubonic plague) so devastating in the past is that the germ theory of disease, and the antibiotics used to fight those germs, have been in use for little more than a century.
Many of those antibiotics were discovered by Americans, and the terrorists who sealed anthrax-filled envelopes seem to have forgotten what an inventive, resilient people Americans are. While some are buying gas masks and filling up on antibiotics, most are remaining calm and going about their business, albeit with an even deeper sense of outrage.
Besides, envelopes of anthrax are certainly frightening. But so are plenty of other things that come in the mail. Most Americans probably find their monthly credit-card statements far more terrifying than anything a terrorist could send through the postal service.
In closing his Friday night broadcast of NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw said it best, "This is so outrageous and so maddening, it's beyond my ability to express it in socially acceptable terms. So we'll just reserve our thoughts and our prayers for our friend [Miss OConnor] and her family." So will we.


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