FBI anthrax profilers see a loner

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The person who mailed letters containing deadly anthrax spores to media and government offices is likely a lone operator, an angry adult male who shuns human interaction and has at least some scientific background, FBI officials scrutinizing the letters said Friday.

The sender, who almost certainly authored all three letters, may not be a native English speaker, officials said. And he probably had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, but may have seized the opportunity to capitalize on them, they said.

"We are assuming we have a lone individual operating in these incidents," said FBI behaviorist Jim Fitzgerald, who, with other bureau officials, briefed the media on clues gleaned from studying the writing style and wording of letters sent to NBC News, the New York Post and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The officials cautioned they have not ruled out any group or individual. It is possible, they said, that the letters were the work of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network, but emphasized that such a scenario is unlikely.

The FBI has found "no direct or clear linkage between this series of incidents or any terrorist cell or network," Fitzgerald said.

The behavioral and linguistic profiling is of particular importance because the letters themselves have yielded no forensic leads, investigative sources have said. No fingerprints, fibers or hair have been recovered from the letters, which were postmarked on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9 in Trenton, N.J.

Friday, officials said the letters themselves were all copies, not original documents — yet another indication of the care the sender took to cover his tracks.

Four people have died and 13 others have been infected by anthrax since the bioterror attacks began.

Hundreds of FBI agents and postal inspectors have spent weeks scouring mail routes and post offices trying to discover the origin of the letters. Friday they changed their theory about Teresa Heller, a West Trenton mail carrier initially believed to have picked up a letter containing anthrax somewhere along her postal route. Postal officials said they now believe she contracted cutaneous anthrax from mail she delivered that was contaminated elsewhere in the system.

Officials said that the bioterrorist may have been someone with a science background who was able to grow the anthrax spores and mill them down to an inhalable quality in a setting as simple as a basement laboratory, with equipment that cost as little as $2,500. Previously, authorities speculated that a sophisticated lab setting would have been required.

The scant clues on the letters themselves include the use of dashes instead of slashes in dates at the top of each letter, a suggestion that the writer may not be a native English speaker, officials said.

The enlarged first letters of proper nouns and enlarged first letters of the first words in each line are "his way of making a capital letter," said Fitzgerald, who again suggested that the sender is not familiar enough with English to use upper- and lower-case letters. The writer used only block capital letters.

Behaviorists said they cannot be sure whether the letter writer tried to leave misleading clues behind. While all three letters are styled as the work of a Muslim extremist — complete with references to Allah and threats — that may be a ruse, officials said.

The writer was sophisticated enough to possess lethal anthrax and to carefully select his targets, yet he mangled the spelling of "penicillin" in the letter, they noted.

"That may be an attempt to dumb them down a bit, to make them look like somebody else other than who they really are," Fitzgerald said.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Everett Housing Authority is asking for city approval for it’s proposed development of 16 acres of land currently occupied by the vacant Baker Heights public housing development on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
North Everett housing project plan gets taller with 15-story buildings

The original plans for the Park District called for 12-story apartments. Another public hearing is set for March 5.

Mt. Pilchuck covered in snow is barely visible through the clouds as the sun breaks through illuminating raindrops as they fall off of the Mountain Loop Highway on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Active’ weather brings rain, snow, hail, fresh powder to Snohomish County

Up to an inch of snow could accumulate in the lowlands. Three inches of rain could fall in Darrington. And Stevens Pass is “doing quite well.”

Cousins Penny Leslie and Sidney Baker work together on a mural inside a jail cell at the Mukilteo Police Department on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No more staring at blank canvas in Mukilteo police holding cells

Bright murals now adorn the walls. The artwork is intended to calm and relax detainees.

Joanne Fisher, right, a meat wrapper with the Marysville Albertsons, hands a leaflet to a shopper during an informational campaign on  Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Fisher was one of about a dozen grocery store workers handing out leaflets to shoppers about the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
US sues to block merger of grocery giants Kroger, Albertsons

Grocery workers in Snohomish County and elsewhere have argued the merger would stymie competition and hurt workers.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee during its meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, where the panel indicated it would not move ahead with legislation to cap residential rent increases at 7%. The move effectively killed the bill for the 2024 legislative session. (Bill Lucia/Washington State Standard)
Plan for 7% statewide cap on rent increases fails in Olympia

State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, told reporters the bill did not have enough support to move it forward.

People look out onto Mountain Loop Mine from the second floor hallway of Fairmount Elementary on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mining company ordered to stop work next to school south of Everett

After operating months without the right paperwork, OMA Construction applied for permits last week. The county found it still violates code.

Shoppers cross Alderwood Mall Parkway after leaving the mall and walking through its parking lot on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lynnwood police seek 3 suspects after pursuit, brief shootout

The driver of a stolen car intentionally hit a teen boy Sunday, officers said. Police pursued the suspects near I-5.

Starbucks employee Zach Gabelein outside of the Mill Creek location where he works on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘We cannot keep up’: Mill Creek Starbucks workers file for unionization

The cafe’s crew joins the ranks of the 624 stores nationwide, including two other locations in Snohomish County.

The Nimbus Apartments are pictured on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County has the highest rent in the state. Could this bill help?

In one year, rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Snohomish County went up 20%. A bill seeks to cap any increases at 7%.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.