- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Federal authorities looking for the terrorists who sent anthrax-laced letters to three states believe the culprits may have infected themselves when they loaded the bacteria into envelopes bound for Florida, New York and Washington D.C., authorities said yesterday.
The FBI has checked dozens of hospitals and clinics and questioned doctors and pharmacists in several states, looking for anyone who sought treatment for flulike symptoms or skin rashes two forms of the disease based on whether a person is exposed to airborne or skin anthrax.
One federal law enforcement official familiar with the probe said there was no reason to assume those responsible for sending the letters did so without getting sick themselves.
"We cannot rule out the possibility that these people were willing to sacrifice themselves," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "We may be looking for a bunch of ill people. It would be incorrect to assume they would be afraid of harming themselves."
Another federal law enforcement official, who also requested anonymity, said those responsible for the letters displayed a "certain amount of expertise" in the type of anthrax they used which authorities believe was professionally produced, finely milled and electrostatically-charged to guarantee it would become airborne.
Authorities said the use of electrostatically-charged anthrax in the letters meant that those who sent the bacteria sought to guarantee it would not remain stuck to the envelopes but spread into the air when opened. Keeping the bacteria together in small clumps, to enhance the chance of an airborne infection, would require an electrostatic charge ensuring that thousands of spores would cling to themselves as an airborne powder.
Authorities are not sure how the letters were electrostatically-charged, but experts said several methods exist and the necessary equipment can be found in pharmaceutical or biology labs.
Anthrax is a colorless, odorless and tasteless bacteria that protects itself from sunlight, heat and disinfectant by forming a protective coat. With this coat, the bacteria are called "spores," which are so small that even an infectious dose between 8,000 and 10,000 spores is smaller than a speck of dust.
The FBI search for the letters, all of which involved a prepaid envelope thus not requiring the licking of a stamp and the leaving of a DNA sample has targeted New Jersey, where three of the letters originated.
U.S. Postal Service investigators said the 178-mile trip from Trenton, N.J., to the Washington office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and the 65-mile trip to the New York offices of NBC News and the New York Post started in what authorities believe was a blue-collar neighborhood west of downtown Trenton, an area of several apartment complexes.
An area of concern is the Hamilton mail processing center near Ewing, N.J., six miles west of Trenton. One letter carrier who picks up mail at nearly 500 addresses in that area contracted the skin form of anthrax.
Postal Service investigators said the Daschle letter is believed to have been routed from its pickup point west of Trenton to one of 46 local mail depots and then to Trenton's regional post office before it was shipped to Washington's Brentwood Road postal facility.
Once the letter arrived at the Brentwood office, investigators said, it was forwarded to a depot operated by the U.S. Capitol Police near Capitol Hill, where it was sorted with other mail and sent with other letters for senators to the Dirksen Office Building. It later was delivered to the Hart building and then to Mr. Daschle.
Investigators found anthrax on a mail-processing machine that handled the Daschle letter. They also found anthrax on a mail bundler in the Ford building, where letters are forwarded from the Capitol Police depot to members of the House meaning that either another anthrax letter was delivered to the House office buildings or the Daschle letter spread contamination before the mail was sorted.
FBI sources said the bureau is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to determine whether any contaminated mail other than the Daschle letter came from Trenton. The sources said the FBI also is investigating how the anthrax got to the Ford building.
Government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said trucks that could have carried the anthrax-laced letter nonstop from Trenton to the Brentwood facility have not been inspected for contamination.
While U.S. Postal Service spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp said he didn't "even know if they have identified" the truck, he added there was little chance of any contamination from the infected letter to other letters or parcels inside the truck.
"People shouldn't worry about getting their mail, it's not contaminated," he said. "There has to be a way for the spores to escape and contaminate the air."


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