Wednesday, November 21, 2001

An elderly Waterbury, Conn., woman is suspected of having inhalation anthrax, and how she contracted it remains a mystery, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said yesterday.
If confirmed, the case would be the first in that state and the first new anthrax case in several weeks in the United States.
Mr. Rowland said state police, the FBI and federal health officials are investigating the case. “It’s very difficult, at this time, for anyone to explain how the patient may have contracted anthrax,” he said.
Four persons have died of inhalation anthrax since Oct. 4, and 13 others have been infected with the bacteria. Two of those who died worked at the District’s central mail processing center on Brentwood Road.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement authorities said the condition of a suspicious letter seized on Friday is likely to put them closer to the culprit behind the anthrax attacks.
The letter addressed to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, was found among some 300,000 pieces of congressional mail quarantined since Oct. 15.
“The way [the letter] was unopened is helpful,” one investigator told The Washington Times. “Clearly this is important evidence.”
The Leahy letter is “almost identical” to an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and opened in the Senate Hart Office Building Oct. 14, federal law enforcement authorities said. The Hart building remains closed due to high concentrations of anthrax spores.
The FBI believes it is “highly probable, bordering on certainty,” that the Leahy letter came from the same person who sent the Daschle letter. It had block printing with a slight slant to the right, an Oct. 9 postmark from Trenton, N.J., and the same nonexistent school listed as the return address.
Authorities still have not determined whether the Leahy letter contains anthrax powder. But U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko yesterday confirmed reports that a sample taken from the plastic evidence bag holding the letter contained a high level of anthrax spores.
Federal law enforcement authorities said the fact that the letter was never opened widens the scope of forensic evidence that can be gathered from it. FBI agents and U.S. Army experts are examining it at Fort Detrick, Md.
Various tests are being conducted, including a check for possible DNA samples, an extensive search for complete or partial fingerprints, testing on the ink used to address the letter and an examination of the handwriting, authorities said.
FBI sources told the New York Times on Friday that the discovery of the letter supports suspicions that a domestic terrorist is behind the anthrax attacks. It is unlikely, they said, that a foreign terrorist would single out the chairman of a congressional committee. Mr. Leahy heads the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Because anthrax was the “weapon” of choice, the FBI believes the letter sender is an adult male and probably works in a job requiring little contact with the public or other employees.
Investigators believe he may work in a laboratory, is apparently comfortable working with an extremely hazardous material and probably has some scientific background.
The FBI believes the letter sender may have become mission-oriented since September 11 in his desire to undertake these anthrax mailings. He may have become more secretive and exhibited an unusual pattern of activity.
Trace amounts of anthrax were reported yesterday in the mailrooms of Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. Both offices in the Russell Senate Office Building were closed and staff were tested for the deadly infection.
“The Capitol physician has determined that the amount is negligible and that it poses no public safety or health risk,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The secretary of the Senate told Mr. Kennedy that tests of the Russell building detected a very small trace of anthrax in his office mailroom, and the source is probably cross-contamination from another letter at some point in the postal system.
Mr. Kennedy closed his office early yesterday for Thanksgiving because he was “very concerned” about the health of his staff. “I have every expectation that the office will reopen by Monday, November 26, 2001,” he said.
Mr. Dodd also sent his staff home early, urging them not to panic. “We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season,” he said.
The State Department yesterday said its mail system is back to normal. It was shut down Oct. 24 when an employee at its Sterling, Va., mail facility got inhalation anthrax.
The Sterling facility remains closed for testing, and officials continued searching quarantined mail for another anthrax letter, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Audrey Hudson and H.J. Brier contributed to this report.

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