FBI officials said Friday that they believe the person who mailed several anthrax-filled letters is probably a U.S.-based male loner with a scientific bent, possibly like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose letter bombs mystified law enforcement for nearly two decades.
Federal officials have been speculating for weeks that the anthrax attacks were not connected to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the FBI's announcement Friday was the strongest endorsement yet of that theory.
Even so, FBI officials said they had not ruled out the possibility that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network is behind the anthrax attacks. But they said the wording of the three known anthrax-laced letters suggests a domestic source.
The FBI is not ruling anything out, but it is certainly looking in that direction, said one FBI official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified. The officials hope the public will help identify the culprit.
The individual, officials said, may work at a laboratory, have a scientific background and probably used the Sept. 11 attacks as a ruse to mask his true intention.
Whoever sent the letters did not select his victims randomly, the FBI source said. Based on analysis of the handwriting on the letters, they said the anthrax attacker likely was nursing a grudge and probably had a high degree of technical training.
The officials believe, too, that he refined the anthrax strain between Sept. 18, when he sent letters to the New York offices of NBC and the New York Post and Oct. 9, when he mailed the letter to the Washington office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. So far, four people have died after inhaling anthrax spores, and 13 more got sick from anthrax exposure.
The FBI profile came as a new case of skin anthrax was suspected, after a week without any new outbreaks.
New York officials said Friday that a mail room worker at a media organization may have had the cutaneous, highly treatable form of the disease. The unidentified employee, who developed a lesion Sept. 23, was already "fully cured," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, tests found minute traces of anthrax in private sorting areas of four satellite post offices.
As many as 90 workers handled mail at the facilities, but they have not been told to take antibiotics, said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, the state's epidemiologist.
"The workers here are at a very low risk," he said.
The post offices _ Rocky Hill, Princeton Borough, Trenton and Jackson Township _ all send and receive mail from a regional processing center in Hamilton, which handled the three tainted letters sent to New York and Daschle.
The officials said they could detect no political agenda from the letters and their sender's known actions. Each of the three known letters were photocopies, not originals, likely used to help him evade pursuers.
The FBI profile of the likely anthrax attacker suggests that he probably avoids public situations. If he has a job, they said, it likely does not involve contact with many people. They suspect he underwent a significant behavioral change as the letters went out, becoming focused on his mission to spread terror, and might have struck acquaintances as increasingly remote.
FBI officials said they doubt the letters were sent by Middle Eastern terrorists because they do not resemble other such letters sent in the past.
The FBI's new profile of the likely anthrax-attacker doesn't bring them any closer to solving the case. Law enforcement authorities spent nearly two decades trying to capture the Unabomber and did not succeed until Ted Kaczynski's brother turned him in. The FBI has asked anyone with "credible evidence" that may help identify the person to call 1-800-274-6388.
Homeland Security director Tom Ridge on Friday expressed hope that the threat of anthrax was subsiding. His optimism came as two postal workers who had been treated for the often fatal inhalation form of the disease were released from their hospital beds and sent home.
"We're prayerful, we're hopeful, we hope that this is the last we ever see and have to deal with it," Ridge said.
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said her agency was working closely with water companies and other federal agencies to protect drinking water from contamination.
"The good news here, if there is good news, is that it takes more than a teaspoon or a cupful of a biological or chemical agent to disrupt a water supply and to jeopardize or threaten the health of a municipality or a city," she said. "In fact . . . it would take a truckload to do it."
_ Information from Knight Ridder, Cox News Service and Associated Press was used in this report.
The FBI's profile
The FBI's profile of the person believed to have sent anthrax through the mail:
Based on the selection of anthrax as the "weapon" of choice by this individual, the offender:
Is likely an adult man.
If employed, is likely to be in a position requiring little contact with the public, or other employees. He may work in a laboratory. He is apparently comfortable working with an extremely hazardous material. He probably has a scientific background to some extent, or at least a strong interest in science.
Has likely taken appropriate protective steps to ensure his own safety, which may include the use of an anthrax vaccination or antibiotics.
Has access to a source of anthrax and possesses knowledge and expertise to refine it.
Possesses or has access to some laboratory equipment, such as a microscope, glassware and centrifuge.
Has exhibited an organized, rational thought process.
Has familiarity, direct or indirect, with the Trenton, N.J., metropolitan area and is comfortable traveling in and around this locale. This does not necessarily mean he lives in the area.
Did not select victims randomly. He made an effort to identify the correct address, including zip code, of each victim and used sufficient postage to ensure proper delivery of the letters. The offender deliberately targeted NBC News, the New York Post and the office of Sen. Tom Daschle, and possibly American Media Inc. in Florida. These targets are probably very important to the offender. They may have been the focus of previous expressions of contempt, which may have been communicated to others, or observed by others.
Is a nonconfrontational person, at least in his public life. He lacks the personal skills necessary to confront others face-to-face, choosing instead to confront problems long-distance. He may hold grudges for a long time, vowing to get even with "them" one day. There are probably other, earlier, examples of this type of behavior. While these earlier incidents did not involve anthrax mailings, he may have chosen to anonymously harass other individuals or entities that he perceived as having wronged him. He may also have chosen to use the mail on those occasions.
Prefers being by himself more often than not. If he is involved in a personal relationship, it will likely be of a self-serving nature.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this person may have become mission-oriented in his desire to undertake these anthrax mailings. He may have become more secretive and exhibited an unusual pattern of activity. Additionally, he may have displayed a passive disinterest in the events which otherwise captivated the nation. He also may have started taking antibiotics unexpectedly.
He may have exhibited significant behavioral changes since the anthrax mailings. These may include:
Altered physical appearance.
Atypical media interest.
Noticeable mood swings.
Unusual level of preoccupation.
Altered sleeping and/or eating habits.
These post-offense behaviors would have been most noticeable around critical times, including but not limited to: The mailing of the letters on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, the death of the first anthrax victim, media reports of each anthrax incident, and especially the deaths and illnesses of nontargeted victims.