Hoaxes, Psychology & Barbara Hatch Rosenberg
Ed Lake
(July 6, 2003)

In Barbara Hatch Rosenberg’s "Analysis of The Anthrax Attacks" on the Federation of American Scientist's web site she goes to great lengths to show patterns connecting various hoaxes to the anthrax mailings.

But is such a connection really likely?

Here is what Barbara Hatch Rosenberg wrote:

"Four letters with anthrax have been found, and a fifth (to AMI) was apparently discarded after opening. In addition, at least three of the five anthrax recipients also received "hoax" letters containing an innocuous powder; and several different media offices received similar hoax letters. Some of the hoax letters were mailed BEFORE the first anthrax case (in Florida) was reported, and all but one hoax letter were mailed BEFORE there were any reports of anthrax letters or hoax letters.  Therefore the hoax letters targeting media are not simply a copycat phenomenon. The envelopes on most or all of the hoax letters were addressed in block capitals similar to the addresses on the anthrax envelopes, even though they were mailed before the anthrax envelopes became known. A photograph of one hoax letter (to St. Petersburg Times) has been published, and descriptions or comparisons of others have been reported. If analysis confirms that the hoax letters were sent by the anthrax perpetrator, their postmarks will indicate his itinerary (or the assistance of an accomplice) .."
Her theory appears to be that it all must be connected to the same culprit.

She even connects the letter accusing Dr. Assaad to the same culprit:

"Furthermore, an anonymous letter accusing a former USAMRIID scientist of plotting terrorism was sent to police BEFORE any anthrax letters or disease were reported. The letter contains evidence that the anonymous writer had probably worked at USAMRIID. This letter may also come from the anthrax perpetrator."
Ms Rosenberg’s theory seems to be that anything regarding anthrax that happened between the time of the mailings and the first published word that anthrax had been sent through the mails must be connected - because, in her mind, it is extremely improbable that anyone could have come up with such an idea independently.

This is absolute, total, mind-boggling nonsense.

According an Oct. 13, 2001, article in The St. Petersburg Times, Postmaster General John Potter said that the Postal Service investigated more than 80 threats involving anthrax every year.   Nationwide, in the two years prior to the actual anthrax attacks, authorities received about 178 anthrax threats at courthouses, reproductive health service providers, churches, schools, and post offices.

By September of 2001, the media had apparently become so accustomed to receiving such hoaxes that they all threw away or threw aside the REAL anthrax letters when they arrived.   ABC, CBS and AMI threw their letters out.  NBC and The New York Post tossed theirs into junk mail files. No one even considered calling the police.

What makes Ms Rosenberg’s conjecture so mind-bogglingly bizarre is that she must know that in February of 1999 - as a result of all the hoax anthrax letters which were being sent prior to that time - Dr. Hatfill commissioned a study about what should be done regarding such letters.  The study was performed by William Patrick III.  It's one of the reasons Dr. Hatfill has become a "suspect" for some people.

According to David Tell in The Weekly Standard:

"Patrick's (very short) report was designed to serve as the first draft of a mass-distribution advisory pamphlet concerning the public health and emergency response issues raised by a then-much-publicized wave of anthrax hoax letters mailed to abortion clinics. Clinic employees around the country were being hosed down with misted  bleach by well-meaning but ill-informed local police and ambulance crews. Hatfill, SAIC, and Patrick thought the nation could and should do better."
According to The Washington Post, William Patrick III was paid $500 for his report.  Hatfill and a colleague took Patrick's report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and submitted it to its bioterrorism preparation center. As things turned out, the CDC was working on the same project, and produced the same findings and recommendations as Patrick.

According to some media reports, Patrick's report was a "blueprint" for the fatal mailings.

"That lacks any sense at all," [Dr. Hatfill’s attorney Victor M.] Glasberg said. "There is zero data in the report. It shows you what you do after it happens."
Yet, in spite of all the anthrax hoaxes that were being perpetrated around the United States, Ms Rosenberg appears to believe that no one could have thought of sending anthrax hoax letters before it was actually discovered that real anthrax letters had been sent through the mails.

And Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times added to the hoax nonsense by attempting to link Dr. Hatfill to a package that arrived on April 24, 1997, at the B'nai B'rith headquarters in Washington D.C.  Inside the package was a petri dish mislabeled "anthracks" which actually contained bacillus cereus, a very close, non-toxic cousin of anthrax.  Kristoff made a connection to the anthrax case this way:

"Anybody able to obtain bacillus cereus knew how to spell "anthrax." An echo of that deliberate misspelling came last fall when the anthrax letters suggested taking "penacilin."
But is it really reasonable to think that someone who actually had access to anthrax would be sending out hoax letters with harmless powders?

To me, connecting hoaxes to the real attacks seems to be dredging the bottom of a cesspool of idiotic innuendo pointing at Dr. Hatfill.  It’s boogie man logic.  It’s saying that everything bad that happens must be the work of one person - the boogie man.  It’s pure idiotic innuendo.  It’s tossing out nonsense with the implication that if you can’t prove it's incorrect, then it is correct.

Some people seem to want to blame Dr. Hatfill for everything from the West Nile Virus to SARS.  But is there any real basis for connecting the anthrax mailings or the anthrax mailer to any hoax?

The Psychology of Hoaxes

Is it really reasonable to believe that someone who actually had access to anthrax would send out hoax letters using harmless powders?  I find that nearly incomprehensible.  It’s like someone who owns an arsenal of real weapons using a dummy bomb to frighten people - before actually blowing people up with a real bomb.  That’s just not logical in this situation.  It's not impossible, but it is extremely unlikely.  The psychology is all wrong.

However, I can envision someone who has anthrax in his possession sending out threatening letters.  That’s why I continue to wonder about the "Indianapolis letters" sent to Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and others.  Those letters were reportedly NOT hoaxes but threats.  What kind of threats?  We don’t know. The New York Post said that the letters "were addressed in block letters that virtually match the lettering on the anthrax-laced missives sent to Sen. Thomas Daschle, the New York Post and NBC.  And "Each line of the printed address clearly sloped downward to the right and the handwriting eerily resembled that on the anthrax letters."

And there's this from Sean Hannity: "When I saw the Tom Daschle envelope and the Tom Brokaw envelope, I immediately was stunned," Hannity told listeners. "It was the exact same handwriting that I had recognized. ... When I saw it I said, 'Oh my God, that's the same guy.'"

But today, after receiving many handwriting samples which people consider to be "nearly identical" to the anthrax writings, but which I see as nothing like the anthrax writings, I now feel enclined to believe that even those "threating" letters were probably completely unrelated to the anthrax case.

My analysis of the anthrax cases indicates that none of the hoax letters are connected in any way to the anthrax mailings.  That doesn't mean the hoax letters were coincidental.  It is not a coincidence when it is common to have anthrax hoaxes nearly every week and some such hoaxes occur close in time or location to a real event.  It's not a coincidence if the power fails and looters take advantage of it.  Nut cases who send hoax letters seem to be waiting for tense situations they can use to foster their causes or voice their grievances.   It’s not a coincidence, it’s the dark side of human nature at work.

And human nature says to me that, while the anthrax mailer may have been planning something prior to Sept. 11 that involved awakening America to the dangers of bioweapons, whatever he planned, it didn’t involve diluting or diminishing the real attack by sending out hoax letters attacking Jews or abortion clinics or anyone else.

The anthrax mailer seems to have been totally unaware of how just many hoax letters were being sent out every year in the United States.   If he read about a few, he apparently assumed that all such letters received attention by the news media.  He certainly did NOT think that all his actual anthrax-filled letters to the media would be totally ignored and either tossed away or tossed aside.   If he was experienced with sending out hoax anthrax letters, he should have realized that only a tiny fraction of such hoaxes were ever actually reported upon in the national media prior to that time.

The only way I can make the pieces fit is if the anthrax mailer sent out the first anthrax letters fully believing that they would create panic.  And when they didn’t, he was forced to take risks and to create a more dangerous batch of anthrax for a second mailing - where he clearly told the recipients that the powder was anthrax.

I see virtually no possibility that the anthrax mailer was connected in any way to any anthrax hoax.  The psychology just doesn’t seem to work.

The hoax letter sent to Senator Daschle from England in November of 2001 is no exception.  While Dr. Hatfill was in England at the time that hoax letter was mailed, so were people who believed that Dr. Hatfill was the anthrax mailer and that the FBI was covering up for him.  The fact that Barbara Hatch Rosenberg was questioned about a possible attempt to frame Dr. Hatfill should demonstrate that the FBI didn't think Dr. Hatfill sent that letter.  The very idea that he would send a hoax letter from England is just plain silly.  Attempting to link that letter to Dr. Hatfill just illustrates how mindlessly intent some people are to find "evidence" against him.


© 2003 by Ed Lake
All Rights Reserved
First draft: July 6, 2003
Revised Sept. 6, 2014 to correct error.