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.

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