19 Dec 2002
Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2001.
THE ANTHRAX THREAT
Likely Sent Anthrax, FBI Says
WASHINGTON -- The FBI is increasingly
convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf
within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an
opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage, investigators said
Based on case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and
other evidence, authorities do not believe at this point in their five-week
investigation that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was behind the anthrax
attacks, FBI officials said.
Instead, FBI investigators said at a news briefing that they are probably
looking for an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was
able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to
produce high-quality anthrax. FBI officials, in offering their most expansive
public assessment to date of their probe, are hoping that the rough profile they
have developed of the anthrax culprit could produce a redux of their 1996
capture of the infamous Unabomber.
In that case, an 18-year rampage of bombings led authorities to Theodore
Kaczynski only after his brother recognized his writing style in a lengthy
manifesto that was released publicly.
In the anthrax case, the FBI is hoping its portrait of the perpetrator--as an
antisocial loner with some peculiar mannerisms in his handwriting and
phrasing--will help lead them to whoever mailed at least three anthrax-laced
letters and killed four people.
Authorities have offered $1.25 million in reward money, and leads from the
public "will play an integral role perhaps in identifying this individual," said
James R. Fitzgerald, an FBI profiler who worked on the Unabomber case.
Even as authorities sought the public's help, Homeland Security Director Thomas
J. Ridge acknowledged at the White House on Friday that progress in the probe
has been frustratingly slow. "We're still no closer to identifying specifically
the origin of the anthrax and / or the perpetrators of that challenge that's
confronted America," he said.
FBI officials acknowledge that psychological profiling, the stuff of "Silence of
the Lambs," is at best a rough science and it is not used often in soliciting
tips from the public. But they insist they may have some telltale signs to
follow by combining histories of serial bombers such as Kaczynski with
handwriting and chemical evidence from three anthrax-laced letters sent in
September and October to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), NBC anchor
Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.
Investigators suspect, for instance, that whoever mailed the anthrax has little
contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like
The individual demonstrates the same tendencies as serial bombers, who "don't
really enjoy face-to-face confrontation with someone to iron out a problem. They
choose to do it long-distance," Fitzgerald said.
All three letters were postmarked from Trenton, N.J., but postal officials
indicated Friday that they no longer believe the letters were mailed from a
residential postal route in Ewing, N.J., just outside the Trenton city limits.
They have broadened their search to a wider region in the Trenton area, but FBI
officials said there is no assurance that whoever mailed the anthrax letters had
any direct connection to that area. Fitzgerald noted that Kaczynski traveled
1,500 miles by bus from Montana to San Francisco in order to send several
Investigators believe the anthrax attacker had at least a limited background in
science, is perhaps someone with a doctorate, a lab technician "or somewhere in
between," Fitzgerald said.
"He's shown us he knows anthrax," said an FBI supervisor who spoke on condition
of anonymity. And forensic analysis indicates that the anthrax in the Oct. 9
letter sent to Daschle was much more highly refined than what was contained in
the two letters sent to the media Sept. 18, officials said.
That refinement process would require only "basic laboratory
equipment"--including a microscope, a centrifuge and a milling device. The
equipment would be available in many labs or could be purchased for as little as
$2,500, officials said. "You could do it on a shoestring," the FBI supervisor
FBI investigators said they are tracking recent purchases of milling and other
equipment and are also curious about whether the mailing of the three letters on
Tuesdays--Sept. 18 and Oct. 9--could indicate something about the attacker's
work schedule or access to a lab. But investigators said the relative ease of
getting the processing equipment--and the lack of information about what labs
and research centers even possess anthrax--have hindered their efforts.
Although early speculation indicated the highly refined strain of anthrax could
only have been produced by labs in the United States, Iraq or Russia,
investigators now believe "it could be from anywhere," one senior FBI official
Investigators are not ruling out overseas possibilities, but current evidence
points to "no direct or clear linkage" to any known terrorist cells, Fitzgerald
said. That would mean it was not linked to Bin Laden, Iraq's Saddam Hussein or
other Middle Easterners with known interest in bioterrorism.
One sign leading investigators away from the prospect of an Islamic
fundamentalist is the use of the phrase "Allah is great" to close all three
letters. Fitzgerald said the phrasing and the absence of Arabic text do not jibe
with past terrorist attacks, and he suggested the author may have been trying to
falsely cast suspicion on Middle Easterners.
All three notes also began with the date "09-11-01." But again, Fitzgerald said
there is a strong possibility the attacker was hiding behind the date of the
Sept. 11 hijackings as subterfuge. The attacker appears to be "an opportunist
[who] took advantage" of the mayhem surrounding the hijackings to pursue his own
agenda, Fitzgerald said.
The pattern of evidence points to a home-grown terrorist, investigators said.
"We're certainly looking in that direction right now as far as someone
domestic," the FBI supervisor said.
The FBI is also hoping that oddities in the three letters, which authorities
released last month, could jog the memory of someone else who has gotten a
letter from the same author. The letters were written in distinctive block
lettering with a downward slope, for instance, and the author used distinctive
"1" numerals, along with dashes to write the "09-11-01" date instead of slashes,
investigators noted. The author spelled penicillin incorrectly in the line "take
penacilin now," but Fitzgerald said this may have been an attempt to falsely
"dumb down" the letter to throw investigators off the trail.
Postal authorities on Friday also revised their assessment of how a Hamilton,
N.J., letter carrier may have contracted anthrax.
The FBI then believed Teresa Heller, 45, had probably handled one of the
anthrax-laced letters. But once no anthrax spores were found at the small West
Trenton postal branch where Heller worked, authorities were forced to reexamine
While anthrax hot spots have continued to be found at outlying New Jersey postal
facilities, officials blamed the findings on cross-contamination and said the
discoveries have been of little help in the investigation.
Times staff writers Edwin Chen, Robert A. Rosenblatt and Robin
Wright in Washington and Janet Wilson in New York contributed to this report.