A top FBI official says the agency is “working aggressively and furiously around the clock” to find the “cold-blooded murderer” responsible for the anthrax attack.
“There are four individuals dead as a result of this, none of them the intended targets. We need the public’s help,” Van Harp, assistant director of the FBI’s Washington Metropolitan field office, said yesterday at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
The news conference was called by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who said he hopes a newly discovered letter sent to him, suspected of containing anthrax, will provide evidence to find those responsible for the deadly bioterrorist assault.
“I’m hoping the one bright light might be that the letter would give us further evidence about who is doing this,” Mr. Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday.
The letter to Mr. Leahy was found Friday in a batch of mail that had been removed from congressional offices and held, following the Oct. 15 discovery of an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Both letters bore similar handwriting block lettering, slanted to the right; both were postmarked Oct. 9 from Trenton, N.J.; and both had the same return address, a nonexistent elementary school in Trenton, Mr. Harp said.
The FBI official told reporters that authorities are still not certain the Leahy letter contains anthrax. That won’t be known definitively until scientists at Fort Detrick, Md., complete testing, Mr. Harp said.
In a statement Friday night, the FBI said the Leahy letter “appears to contain anthrax.”
Chris Murray, spokesman for the FBI’s Washington office, could not say when testing of the letter will be completed.
Mr. Leahy said he has no idea why someone would have sent him a letter believed to contain anthrax. Asked if he believes he was targeted, he said:
“My name could just as well have been picked out randomly. I think you’re dealing with someone who wants to strike out. I have no idea why my name was on there. It could have been any one of the other 99 senators whose name was on there.”
He said he is “completely satisfied with the work” law enforcement agencies are doing to try to track down those who mailed out the anthrax-tainted letters.
“You’re looking for a needle in a haystack, but we found those needles before, and I hope we’re able to find this person,” said Mr. Leahy.
The senator went on to say he believes “somebody has to know something who hasn’t come forward.”
“I wish they would, because the people who died in this are not the people the letters were addressed to. Senator Daschle and I are perfectly safe. People [who] go to work at the post office and elsewhere, they died,” the Vermont Democrat said.
Meanwhile, tests for anthrax in the New York City subway system proved negative, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani announced yesterday. The tests were conducted after the mysterious inhalation anthrax death of a hospital worker last month raised fears the bacteria had spread beyond the mail, media outlets and government buildings. The source of 61-year-old Kathy Nguyen’s infection remains unknown.
Mr. Harp said he was “very limited” in what he could say about the anthrax investigation. Asked if the letter addressed to Mr. Leahy reached his office, he said, “I cannot answer that. We’re getting into details where we really don’t want to go right at this juncture.”
He said the decision to quarantine congressional mail following the surfacing of the letter to Mr. Daschle was both “very insightful and appropriate.”
“We constructed a containment sterile examination facility [in Northern Virginia], again, in concert with the EPA and CDC, and began to sample the mail and go through it,” said Mr. Harp.
The letter to Mr. Leahy was found in a search of 280 barrels of unopened mail to Capitol Hill. Mr. Harp said yesterday the search is completed “in respect to the mail from the Capitol complex.”
No one has yet been identified as a suspect in the anthrax attack.