Sunday, January 28, 2024

American Mission Command vs German Auftragstaktik

When considering the role that command philorophies played in the Battle of France, one must ask if our current concept of mission command matches Germany’s Auftragstaktik?

Taken at face value (commanders specify objective while leaving means up to individuals), mission command is brilliant for skirmishes as performed by the French Maquis and other insurgency forces. The mission goal and timeframe are set by de Gaulle or other distant allied commanders, the maquisards kill the bad guys and break their stuff, while semi-politicians like Jean Moulin endeavored to hold together the non-rural factions (the French Resistance, not the Maquis who operated primarily in rural areas). Given the perhaps romanticized psychology of the Maquis, as well as the necessity for decentralized organization and the faster OODA looping that comes from local control, mission command is a perfect match for them.

Vandergriff (2018) gives a more comprehensive description of Auftragstaktik – instead of focusing on command and control, he describes it primarily as a form of professionalism and cultural philosophy expected of all members of the German Army: “subordinates could be trusted to take the action he thought appropriate, rather than stopping and waiting until contact could be re-established. This aggressive attitude allowed units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities and local successes.”

Vandergriff (2018) goes on to identify three virtues that German officers required: “knowledge, independence, and the joy of taking responsibility.” These virtues are expressed in Innere Führung, which the German Major General Werner Widder (2002) describes as leadership and civic education and is the foundation of the relationship between the individual soldier and society.

Thus, Vandergriff’s virtues not only describe the character of German officers but makes Auftragstaktik a natural corollary instead of a forced doctrine: German professionalism implies mission command, but not necessarily the reverse.

It is interesting to note that while command and control has been official doctrine in the U.S. Army from 1980 (Kiser 2015), a set of corresponding virtues wasn’t released until 2023 in the Air Force’s doctrine on mission command. These virtues - character, competence, capability, cohesion, and capacity (U.S. Air Force, 2023) - show a maturation of U.S. doctrine to something closer to a complete version of Germany’s Auftragstaktik.


Kiser, A. J. (May 2015) “Mission command: The historical roots of mission command in the US Army.” Defense Technical Information Center. Last retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

U.S. Air Force. (14 August 2023). “Air Force doctrine publication 1-1: Mission Command” Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

Vandergriff, D. E. (21 June 2018). “How the Germans defined Auftragstaktik: What mission command is – and – is not” Small Wars Journal. Retrieved 28 January 2024 from

Widder, W. (2002). “Auftragstaktik and Innere Führung: Trademarks of German leadership” Military Review, September-October 2002. Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

Explaining Gamelin's Defeat at the Battle of France

General Maurice Gamelin’s hubris and self-delusion certainly played a role in France's defeat, but were those the only reasons for that defeat?

The willful ignorance of the geography and history surrounding the Ardennes Forest wasn’t limited to just a few military leaders but seemed to be widespread throughout the top levels of the French military. How did this institutional rot become so widespread? Here are two theories that may explain this:

  1. The “blinded by science” theory: the French saw Germany’s use of blitzkrieg in the invasion of Poland in 1939, and they failed to grasp the significance of it. This is akin to when one chess player doesn’t understand his opponent’s strategy mid-game. The world was seeing a revolution in heavy mechanized warfare, and the French didn’t understand the scope of its applicability.
  2. The “historical materialism theory”: during the interwar years, France was a hotbed of Marxist-influenced thought, and Marxists are extremely comfortable with revising history to fit their narrative. The result is that history becomes detached from reality and is instead grounded in wishful thinking and the eternal Year Zero. This may be why Gamelin discounted the results of the 1939 summer exercises – the historical materialist would say that what happened last year has no bearing on the present beyond the repositioning of economic classes, followed by even more word salad.

Both theories may be grasping at straws, and it would be very difficult to either prove or disprove them. A little scrap of information supporting the second theory comes from Pétain, who attributed the French defeat to “the work of 30 years of Marxism,” (Langer, 2013) but this can be his attempt to shift the blame. Another quote of his (Giannelia, 1941) is that “France will become again what she should never have ceased to be, an essentially agricultural nation. Like the giant of mythology, she will recover all her strength by contact with the soil,” thoughts that would be echoed by Pol Pot 30 years later.


Giannelia, P. (1941). “France returns to the soil”. Land and Freedom. Retrieved 28 Jan 2024 from

Langer, H. J. (2013). World War II: An encyclopedia of quotations. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Military Geography of Operation Sickle Cut


Germany’s invasion of France in May and June of 1940 could cross the border at three locations: the Maginot Line, the Ardennes Forest, and the Plain of Flanders. The French considered the Maginot Line to be secure. They believed that Ardennes was impassible by German Panzers, and so they defended it with minimal forces. French General Maurice Gamelin thus designed his Dyle-Breda Plan to defend Flanders by amassing troops along the Franco-Belgian border.

Germany instead believed that Ardennes was a viable invasion route and so amassed Army Group A at the least-defended part of the border: the Ardennes Forest, while placing the smaller Army Group B at the Belgian border. This was the starting arrangement of the German forces according to General Erich von Manstein’s Case Yellow, also called Unternehmen Sichelschnitt – Operation Sickle Cut.

French and German War Plans at the Start of the Battle of France
From Galgano (2009)

Germany indeed attacked through Belgium, and the Allies responded by sending their forces into Flanders to repel Army Group B. Germany’s incursion into Belgium was feigning maneuver, however.

Almost simultaneously, Army Group A with its seven Panzer divisions entered the Ardennes Forest on 10 May, crossing it in only three days. Once on French soil, the Germans turned north and reached the English Channel by 21 May. This encircled the Allied forces at Flanders, trapping them against the English Channel. This also separated the Allied forces at Flanders from those assigned to defend central France, including Paris. A little over a month later, almost half of France was occupied, and the armistice and cease fire between France and Germany went into effect on 25 June.

Geographic Analysis: Physical Component

Galgano (2009) argues convincingly that the Ardennes Forest was the most pivotal geographic element at the start of the Battle of France. The Ardennes, with its dense forest, rugged hills, and deep gorges, made the forest difficult to cross, restricting travel mostly to roads running along river valleys. There is one part of Ardennes, however, through which heavy armor could pass: the Losheim Gap (Winters, Galloway & Reynolds, 2001, p. 49). The Germans used this gap at the start of the sickle cut, sending seven Panzer divisions into France on 10 May 1940.

A physical component that played a role at the end of the sickle cut is the English Channel, which worked as a barrier against which the Germans pinned the French, British, and Belgian forces. Besides forcing the Allies to evacuate their troops, the English Channel also served as the German's right flank as they continued their march westward through France.

Geographic Analysis: Cultural Component

The most important cultural component was the French General Staff’s attitude that the Ardennes was impossible to cross using heavy armor. The analysis of prior commanders lent credence to this: the WWI French General Charles Lanrezac is quoted as saying that "if you go into that deathtrap of the Ardennes, you will never come out" (Winters, Galloway & Reynolds, 2001, p. 48), and Marshal Pétain in 1934 called the Ardennes "impenetrable," but amended this by stating that "if any enemy attacked he would be pincered as he left the forest. This is not a dangerous sector," adding "as long as we make special provisions" (Jackson, 2004, p. 32) - those provisions presumably being support from the Belgian Army as well as the use of French troops trained at slowing or halting an advancing force. This latter option was viable, for "the terrain also decentralized offensive command and control while favoring small-unit defensive operations" (Winters, Galloway & Reynolds, 2001, p. 49).

The belief that the Ardennes was impenetrable by heavy armor had solidified before the start of WWII, as the French halted construction of the most fortified part of the Maginot Line south of Ardennes (Galgano, 2009). Even the French 1938 summer exercises in which a notional German force defeated French forces in Ardennes (Galgano, 2009) was not enough to challenge this dogma, as General Gamelin attributed this loss to a lack of adequate reserves. Galgano (2009) attributed Gamelin’s self-delusion to “an unconscionable sense of intellectual lethargy.”

The assumption that Ardennes was impassible was held by French commanders right up to the start of the Battle of France. Even when it was clear that Germany would attempt an invasion, the French side of the Ardennes Forest was guarded by a force used in an inappropriate manner by the commanders who placed them there, which Galgano (2009) dismisses as "second-rate" and the "worst divisions in the French Army." Further, the French apparently did not perform reconnaissance (either aerial or even basic ground patrols) to monitor activity on the German side of the Forest.


Would these military geographic components still be considered important today? The physical components that made the Ardennes difficult to penetrate are still there (except maybe for deforestation and modernized roadways), but physical impediments are made less important due to improvements in heavy armor technology and the ability to deliver such armor through means other than over-land. The English Channel is still of value for its ports and the proximity of the Lille industrial district. To any enemy of France, those ports and the Lille district continue to be assets worth controlling. The fact that the English Channel is a body of water will forever constrain the movement of ground forces. (Galgano & Palka, 2010, pp. 50)

It is not clear whether the cultural components would still be in place: WWI ended more than a century ago, and the military commanders that saw the Battles of Flanders (and desired not to see it repeated) are long gone, as were the commander who wanted to refight the previous war. The institutional dogma about the impenetrability of the Ardennes Forest by heavy armor may still be in place as a form of command inertia, either ignoring the history and geography of the Battle for France or by ignoring basic infantry skills in favor of "high tech" approaches to area denial.


Galgano, F. A. (2009). " Sichelschnitt ": A geographical analysis of a decisive campaign, France, May 1940. In P. Nathanail, B. Abrahart and R. Bradshaw (Eds.), The History and Technology of Military Geology and Geography, Nottingham, United Kingdom: Total Graphics, Ltd.

Galgano, F. & Palka, E.J. (2010). (Eds.). Modern military geography (1st ed.). Routledge.

Jackson, J. (2004). The fall of France: The Nazi invasion of 1940. OUP Oxford.

Winters, H.A., Galloway, G.A., & Reynolds, W.J. (2001). Battling the elements: Weather and terrain in the conduct of war. John Hopkins University Press.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Value of Military Geography

Geographical information is extremely applicable to military operations, for "[i]n combat an environmental advantage for one side always means some degree of misfortune for the other" (Winters, Galloway & Reynolds, 2001, p. 1). The wise commander understands this and uses geography to his advantage when defending against an enemy, engaging with the enemy, or breaking contact when appropriate.

From an applied perspective, in the context of wartime, at the smallest tactical scale, and using a topical approach (Galgano & Palka, 2010, pp. 15-16), knowledge of the geography of the area of operations (AO) will allow the fireteam or squad commander to set up defensive positions for his unit and determine likely avenues of enemy approach. It also allows him to locate linear and open danger areas, which in turn will aid in determining patrol routes and positioning ambushes.

Further, knowledge of the terrain and intelligence on enemy locations will determine the safest routes for convoys as they move through the AO, and the safest times to use those routes. This allows a commander to assign forces to surveil and defend those routes.

Geography is useful in planning aggressive actions as well. The commander will use geographic information to control the enemy's movements, using terrain features as natural barriers to channel the enemy to where the commander wishes them to go. Geographic information can be used with communication systems to enable synchronized movements between two or more fireteams and squads, to execute hammer and anvil tactics, for example.

Geographic information must be as current as possible so that patrol leaders are aware of changes such as variations in the flow of rivers or the appearance/disappearance of intermittent lakes. Seasonal variations in foliage will alter locations of concealment and will determine the ways in which an enemy can be observed.

These applications of geography also work in reverse, in a sense: they allow a commander to predict where the enemy would set-up ambushes, or to predict which convoy routes will most likely be sabotaged by the enemy, and so on.

At an operational scale, small units can infiltrate behind enemy lines in a coordinated manner (Galgano & Palka, 2010, pp. 30-31), and the points where they cross the enemy’s defensive belt is determined by three pieces of geographic information: the location of gaps in the line of defense, the location of targets (such as enemy supply routes and logistic bases), and the terrain that the penetrating units must traverse to reach those targets.

Geographic information is also used in the penetration attack (Galgano & Palka, 2010, pp. 30-31). In this maneuver, a large force is applied to a narrow section of the front in order to break through the front and attack objectives deep behind enemy lines. Thus, penetration is similar to infiltration, but instead of having numerous small units infiltrate behind enemy lines, a single large force is used. The three pieces of geographic information used in infiltration – location of defensive gap, location of targets, and the terrain between them – are also used in penetration attacks. Penetration attacks can be used (Galgano & Palka, 2010, p. 30) when the enemy’s flanks are not vulnerable, and one way that the enemy commander can ensure this is by exploiting terrain features such as mountains and swamps, as was done at the Battles of Thermopylae and New Orleans, respectively.

By intelligently exploiting geographic information, military commanders can plan and successfully execute tasks relevant to capturing and holding an area as well as eliminating the enemy. The only limits are the commander’s knowledge of geography and his own imagination.


Galgano, F. & Palka, E.J. (2010). (Eds.). Modern military geography (1st ed.). Routledge.

Winters, H.A., Galloway, G.A., & Reynolds, W.J. (2001). Battling the elements: Weather and terrain in the conduct of war. John Hopkins University Press.

Comparing Military Logistics vs Commercial Logistics

Comparing Military Logistics vs Commercial Logistics


  • Requires various supplies in order to proceed
  • Consumes supplies as operations continue - and operations halt when supply is exhausted
  • Both have various supply classes
  • Impracticality of carrying and maintaining all the supplies needed for an extended period of time
  • Both use networks of supply bases and have transportation routes
  • Predictable usage cycles (fighting seasons in military, Christmas season for commercial)
  • Unpredictable demand spikes (unforeseen offensives in military, commercial products "go viral")


  • Military has virtually unlimited funding; commercial activities must operate within budget
  • Military supplies are subject to physical attack from an enemy, commercial supplies are not - usually
  • Military logistic networks are organized into trees; commercial networks aren't
  • Commercial activities can rapidly reorganize supply chains; military has "friction"
  • Raiding is acceptable in military context, but isn't in commercial context.

A large number of Union Pacific trains were raided in LA in Jan 2022. UP has their own police department, but they did nothing to prevent the looting. Their failure lets me know there's a gray zone between military and commercial logistics, and that is a zone that should be occupied.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Fusion Centers: How They Started, How They're Going

Precursors to Fusion Centers

Prior to 9/11, the law enforcement agencies of many major urban areas had departments dedicated to gathering and analyzing intelligence related to very specific types of crime, such as gangs, white collar crimes, narcotics crimes, and organized crime. There was relatively little coordination among these departments or with state, tribal, or federal agencies, except through specialized networks such as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program.

Very few of these agencies specialized in counter-terrorism intelligence. One exception (Sullivan & Bauer, 2008) was the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department: their Terrorism Early Warning Group, formed in 1996, was designed to coordinate first responders (law enforcement and fire services) with LA County Health Services to gather, analyze, and share information related to domestic and international terrorism. The TEWG grew to include data sharing with state and federal agencies. Still, there were few formal relationships for sharing information between other TEW Groups.

Effects of the 9/11 Terror Attacks

This lack of specialized municipal counter-terrorist intelligence agencies changed after 9/11, when the Bush Administration called for the creation of "fusion centers" by state, tribal, and local governments. Modeled on TEW Groups, fusion centers would coordinate with and exchange data with each other as well as federal agencies such as the FBI, DHS, and the DOJ.

The document establishing fusion centers (NSC, n.d. 2007?) can be used as an operational baseline. The scope of information trafficked by fusion centers is delineated as: "all crimes with national security implications, and all hazards information (e.g., criminal investigations, terrorism, public health and safety, and emergency response) which often involves identifying criminal activity and other information that might be a precursor to a terrorist plot." [Emphasis added]

Although the type of information to be gathered by fusion centers was meant to be terrorism-related, note that criminal activity that might be a precursor to terrorism can be surveilled. Further, the guidelines for disseminating Federal information included sending information from federal down to state, local, and tribal levels.

From 2001 to 2010

Davis, et. al. (2010) describe how fusion centers evolved since their founding up to the year 2010. By 2010, fusion centers adopted formal agreements for data sharing between other fusion centers as well as with federal agencies. Local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies became serious collaborators with these federal agencies.

Also, by 2010, most fusion centers experienced enormous mission creep, moving from a counterterrorism and homeland security focus to an "all-crimes, all-hazards" focus. Agencies besides law enforcement and fire services, such as schools and public health departments, were encouraged to work with fusion centers.

Thus the "might be a precursor to a terrorist plot" loophole mentioned above was exploited.

Individual fusion centers' AO/AI expanded during this period as well, with some municipal centers covering the law enforcement agencies in multiple counties.

So intertwined are the agencies that it is possible for multiple law enforcement departments to pursue the same criminals at the same time, and resolving such situations is described as "deconfliction."

Fusion centers are owned and operated by state, tribal, and local governments, but receive federal support through training, personnel, technology, and funding through the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). Davis, et. al. (2010) are concerned about the continuation of fusion centers after the current year's HSGP expires. The HSGP has been renewed annually since the report was published.

From 2010 to the Present

To see how fusion centers have evolved since (Davis, et. al., 2010), a snapshot of fusion center operation and scope can be gleaned from the NSISS, the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding (DNS, 2012). Some changes include:

  1. The NSISS does not define particular categories or types of information that must be shared.
  2. More types of agencies are to supply information to fusion centers: "This information sharing mandate requires sustained and responsible collaboration between Federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, private sector, and foreign partners."
  3. Information is treated as a national asset, and departments and agencies have an obligation to share that information.

An interesting sentence in (DNS, 2012) is this: "In order to build and sustain the trust required to share with one another, we must work together to identify and collectively reduce risk, rather than avoiding information loss by not sharing at all."

Translating Fed-Speak to English, that comment roughly means that management wants workers to share information instead of hoarding it, as federal employees are wont to do so as to acquire personal power. For example, if the FBI and CIA had been more cooperative, 9/11 may have been averted. This gives considerable insight into the people working at fusion centers.


Mission creep and the desire by employees to accumulate power, combined with the lack of a clear definition of terrorism, has led to abuses of power. Examples of this are the types of people classified as terrorists in fusion center reports (Rittgers, 2011):

"The North Texas Fusion System labeled Muslim lobbyists as a potential threat; a DHS analyst in Wisconsin thought both pro- and anti-abortion activists were worrisome; a Pennsylvania homeland security contractor watched environmental activists, Tea Party groups, and a Second Amendment rally; the Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a fusion center in Missouri thought that all third-party voters and Ron Paul supporters were a threat; and the Department of Homeland Security described half of the American political spectrum as “right wing extremists.”"
Missing both from (NSC, n.d. 2007?) and (DNS, 2012) are criteria for success for fusion centers, so it is not clear whether fusion centers are fulfilling their intended purpose.


Davis, L. M., Pollard, M., Ward, K., Wilson, J. M., Varda, D. M., Hansell, L., & Steinberg, P. (2010). Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement’s Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. RAND Corporation.

DHS, (2012, December). National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding.

NSC. (n.d. 2007?). "Appendix 1 - Establishing a national integrated network of state and major urban area fusion centers".

Rittgers, D. (2011, February 2). "We're all terrorists now". Cato Institute.

Sullivan, J. & Bauer, A. (2008). "Terrorism early warning: 10 years of achievement in fighting terrorism and crime". Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Two Domestic Bioterror Attacks


This paper compares two domestic bioterror attacks, one prior to and the other after 9/11. The attacks, the perpetrators and their motives are described, and the responses by state and federal agencies are compared. Finally, a list of practices and procedures implemented by federal agencies to prevent future attacks is enumerated.

Pre-9/11 Terrorist Event: 1984 Rajneeshee Bioterror Attack

Followers of the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931–1990) formed a commune in Oregon in 1981. In 1984 the Rajneeshees had gained political control of the town of Antelope, Oregon, which was 18 miles from their commune.

Having won in Antelope - and renaming it Rajneeshpuram - the Rajneeshees ran candidates for two seats in the Wasco County, OR, Circuit Court as well as for the sheriff's office in the November 1984 election. They knew that they couldn't win the elections without... shenanigans.

The majority of the Rajneeshees couldn't vote as they were not U.S. citizens. To compensate, they transported thousands of homeless people into Rajneeshpuram and attempted to register them to vote in the upcoming election. The Wasco County clerk denied their registrations (Zaitz, 2011, Part 3).

Fearing that they wouldn't get enough votes, the Rajneeshees decided to poison the voters in The Dalles, which is the largest city in Wasco County. They purchased Salmonella from a medical supply company, then cultivated it in a lab in Rajneeshpuram (Zaitz, 2011, Part 2).

As a trial run, they gave two Wasco County commissioners Salmonella-contaminated water in late August 1984. Both fell ill and one required hospitalization (Zaitz, 2011, Part 3). After other attempts of contamination failed, they then tried to spread Salmonella at a local grocery store. That attempt failed, too (Zaitz, 2011, Part 2). Finally, they delivered Salmonella into the salad bars of ten restaurants, either by spreading it over the food or by mixing it into salad dressings, in September and October 1984. They were able to infect a total of 751 people, including an infant and an 87-year-old. Forty-five required hospitalization, and all survived. (Flaccus, 2001)

Local residents suspected that the Rajneeshees were the poisoners, and turned-out in droves on election day. None of the Rajneeshee candidates won.

The Oregon State Public Health Laboratory investigated the matter and concluded that the salmonellosis was caused by the poor personal hygiene of food handlers (Zaitz, 2011, Part 3). Oregon Congressman James Weaver didn't believe this theory and contacted the CDC but was met with skepticism.

Rajneesh held several press conferences starting in September 1985, where he made public his suspicions that those involved in palace intrigue were responsible for the Salmonella outbreak (Zaitz, 2011, Part 4). The twenty people involved in the intrigue had fled to Europe the weekend before. He invited state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate.

The investigation by the Oregon State Police, the FBI, and the INS found receipts for the Salmonella from the medical supply company, signs of a wiretapping operation (Zaitz, 2011, Part 1), and plans to murder several people including an Oregon Times reporter who wrote an expose on the Rajneeshees (Grossman, 2001).

They also found vials of Salmonella which the Atlanta CDC confirmed was a match for the salad bar poisonings.

Rajneesh was charged with 35 violations of immigration laws, and given a 10-year suspended sentence, a $400,000 fine, and was deported. He was never prosecuted directly for crimes related to the Salmonella attack (Zaitz, 2011, Part 5).

Two of Rajneesh's lieutenants were arrested in West Germany and extradited to the U.S. in October 1985. They were charged for the poisoning cases, multiple attempted murder charges, wiretapping, and immigration offenses. They were released on parole early for good behavior after serving only 29 months (Zaitz, 2011, Part 5).

Besides the 751 cases of salmonellosis, the Rajneeshees bioterror attack spread fear and drained the economy of Wasco County. As of 2003, all but one of the contaminated restaurants went out of business (Nestle, 2003).

Post-9/11 Terrorist Event: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In September and October 2001, following the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, letters containing Anthrax were sent to news media offices in New York City and Boca Raton, Florida, as well as to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Twenty-two people were infected, 11 of whom developed severe infections, and five died.

During the investigation, these attacks were called “Amerithrax,” and this name has become part of the final DOJ documents describing the history and outcomes of these attacks.

The Task Force investigating these attacks included at least 27 agents and inspectors from the FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) (DOJ, 2011), and they used a two-prong approach to identify the perpetrator.

The first approach was a traditional investigation, including examination of the envelopes looking for microscopic print defects, paper fiber composition, as well as the shipping records of the envelope manufacturers. They further investigated companies and whole industries that could be connected in any way (DOJ, 2010, p. 21). This included inspecting:

  • any company that could have profited by mailing Anthrax
  • Michigan Biologics Products Institute, the sole provider of the Anthrax vaccine to the DOD (U.S. Congress, 2000)
  • laboratory equipment manufacturers
  • the agriculture veterinary industry
  • the bio-pharmaceutical industry to see if their production processes could be used to manufacture the spore powder
  • and the bio-pesticide industry

The return address on the envelopes was an elementary school in New Jersey. The investigators “reviewed student records dating back several decades” but they found no match to people already in the Amerithrax databases.

They reviewed the correspondence to the senators to look for any similarities with the notes included in the Anthrax letters.

They also collected Internet traffic logs and searches for contacts and mailing addresses for the recipients but were unable to locate any commonalities.

Finally, the Task Force looked for suspicious deaths following the mailings, the idea being that the person who sent the anthrax-containing letters had himself died from the anthrax.

All these traditional investigative methods lead nowhere.

The second investigative approach used by the Task Force involved genetic analysis of the Anthrax spores. Using “microbial forensics” (DOJ, 2011) scientists were able to determine the specific strain of Anthrax used in the attacks. This allowed the FBI to trace the source of the Anthrax to Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. One scientist in particular, Bruce Ivins, was strongly suspected. He committed suicide on July 29, 2008.

Dr. Ivins’ motive for the attacks was determined to be career advancement (DOJ, 2010, p.8):

According to his e-mails and statements to friends, in the months leading up to the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, Dr. Ivins was under intense personal and professional pressure. The anthrax vaccine program to which he had devoted his entire career of more than 20 years was failing. The anthrax vaccines were receiving criticism in several scientific circles, because of both potency problems and allegations that the anthrax vaccine contributed to Gulf War Syndrome. Short of some major breakthrough or intervention, he feared that the vaccine research program was going to be discontinued. Following the anthrax attacks, however, his program was suddenly rejuvenated.

By infecting people with Anthrax, “he creates a situation, a scenario, where people all of a sudden realize the need to have this vaccine.” (DOJ, 2008)

Not only was Ivins’ program rejuvenated, but the bio-pharmaceutical company manufacturing the vaccine for the DOD received FDA approval following the Anthrax mailings.

Comparison of the Attacks

Dr. Ivins and the Rajneeshees both used bioweapons to achieve their goals. The similarities end there:

  • The Rajneeshee attacks were intended to sway an election, Amerithrax was intended to continue and increase funding for Anthrax vaccine research
  • The Rajneeshees’ targets were (for the most part) indiscriminate, besides being in a specific geographic area
  • Amerithrax targeted politicians and news media outlets, which would presumably gather increased attention for the attacks
  • Neither attack sought to bring attention to the attackers

Changes in Federal Agencies to Prevent Future Mail-Borne Attacks

To kill any Anthrax spores still in the mail system at the time of the attack, the USPS worked with companies to irradiate all mail sent to congressional and governmental offices in the Washington, D.C., ZIP codes 20200 to 20599. (Marsh, 2021).

The USPS then developed a Biohazard Detection system in response to the Anthrax letters. This eventually led to the USPS scanning and photographing every piece of mail being processed using the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) system. These scans allow retroactive tracking of mail at the request of law enforcement agencies. The existence of the MICT was kept secret until it was revealed in 2013 by the FBI in the investigation of the Ricin attacks of that year. (Magalski, 2013).

Summary and Conclusions

The 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attacks and the 2001 Amerithrax attacks were both examples of domestic terrorist attacks that employed bioweapons as the vectors of attack. The Anthrax attacks were more sophisticated than the Rajneeshee attacks in that Anthrax is more difficult to cultivate than is Salmonella, presumably, but this can’t be taken as proof that the bioterrorists themselves have become more sophisticated in their craft.

The investigative techniques used show clear signs of improvement in the 17 years between these two terrorist events, however. In the case of the Rajneeshee attacks investigators were only able to verify that the Salmonella in the restaurants was the same as in the commune. In the Amerithrax case, they were able to pinpoint Dr. Ivins as the suspect without him coming forward and admitting guilt.

One comparison that must be made is the extent to which the relevant government agencies investigated these two attacks:

  • With the Rajneeshee attacks, the CDC dismissed the Salmonella attacks as paranoid and “Rajneeshee bashing.”
  • With Amerithrax, multiple agencies were involved and there was no dismissing the attacks.

One must wonder why there was this difference. Some theories include:

  1. Amerithrax shortly followed the 9/11 attacks, when all investigative agencies were on heightened alert
  2. Microbial forensics as a field of research had started to blossom between the two events
  3. The Rajneeshee bioterror attack was confined to one state whereas Amerithrax attacks involved five states and Washington D.C.
  4. The Salmonella was delivered in person whereas the Anthrax was delivered using the USPS, a federal agency
  5. There is also a difference in the targets: Ivins’ targets were media outlets and politicians, whereas Rajneeshees’ targets were “average Joes”


DOJ. 6 August 2008. Transcript of Amerithrax Investigation Press Conference.

DOJ. 19 February 2010. Amerithrax investigative summary.

DOJ. February 15, 2011. FBI and Justice Department Response to NAS Review of Scientific Approaches Used During the Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Letters.

Flaccus, Gillian. October 19, 2001. Ore. town never recovered from scare. Associated Press.

Grossman, Lawrence. January/February 2001. The story of a truly contaminated election. Columbia Journalism Review.

Magalski, Michael. December 3, 2013. Management Alert – Mail Isolation, Control, and Tracking (Report Number HR-MA-14-002).

Marsh, Allison. 29 Sep 2021. Irradiating the mail: The anthrax attacks of 2001. IEEE Spectrum.

Nestle, Marion. 2003. Safe food: bacteria, biotechnology, and bioterrorism. University of California Press.

U.S. Congress. April 3, 2000. House Report 106-556 The Department of Defense Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program: Unproven Force Protection.

Zaitz, Les. April 14, 2011. 25 years after Rajneeshee commune collapsed, truth spills out -- Part 1 of 5. The Oregonain/OregonLive.

Zaitz, Les. April 14, 2011. Thwarted Rajneeshee leaders attack enemies, neighbors with poison -- Part 2 of 5. The Oregonain/OregonLive.

Zaitz, Les. April 14, 2011. Rajneeshee leaders take revenge on The Dalles' with poison, homeless -- Part 3 of 5. The Oregonain/OregonLive.

Zaitz, Les. April 14, 2011. Rajneeshee leaders see enemies everywhere as questions compound -- Part 4 of 5. The Oregonain/OregonLive.

Zaitz, Les. April 14, 2011. Rajneeshees’ Utopian dreams collapse as talks turn to murder -- Part 5 of 5. The Oregonain/OregonLive.