New Anthrax Scare: This Time Leahy’s Letter Tests Negative

With the war drums on Iran beating loudly, homeland security theater is ratcheting up yet another level as a wave of letters containing a powdery substance have been mailed again to media and political figures. This time, unlike the October-November 2001 episode, all letters tested so far have been negative for anthrax or other harmful substances, but the mailer has threatened that ten percent of the large number of letters mailed will be deadly. Most notable in this current series is that a letter was received at the Burlington, Vermont office of Senator Patrick Leahy. Recall that Senator Leahy was one of those targeted with the most deadly version of the anthrax mailed in 2001.

Details on this latest episode were first reported by Reuters on Wednesday:

Several members of the Congress received mail threatening a biological attack and containing a suspicious powder later found to be harmless as law enforcement officials warned on Wednesday that more letters could be on their way.

A number of media organizations and TV shows, including the New York Times and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, received mail postmarked Oregon warning that letters had been sent to the Washington or local offices of all 100 U.S. senators and that 10 contained a deadly pathogen, a law enforcement source said.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, received a letter containing a powdery substance at one of his offices in his home state of Ohio, a Republican aide said, adding that the powder was harmless.

/snip/

In a notice to Senate staffers titled “Urgent: Suspicious Mail Alert,” [Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance] Gainer warned that the sender of the letters had “indicated that additional letters containing a powdery substance will be arriving at more Senate offices and that some of these letters may contain actual harmful material.”

More details have since come out:

The letters make vague complaints about too much money in politics and had a Portland, Oregon return address from an organization listed as “The MIB, LLC,” a law enforcement official told CBS News.

In addition to the letters to the lawmakers, officials said television comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert received letters mentioning the letters to senators.

The author told the comedians he would send letters to all 100 senators and ten percent of them would contain “lethal pathogens,” an official told CBS News.

The author wanted an end to corporate money and lobbying, an end to “corporate personhood,” and called for a new constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution.

The author also told the comedians he would tell the senators they are “working for the wrong side” and there is a ten percent chance they have been exposed to a lethal pathogen. The author also said he “randomized” which letters would contain the pathogen and even he did not know who would get which letter.

Because of the advance notice, the letter received at Leahy’s office was spotted and the authorities were called:

The senator’s staff noticed one address on an incoming letter and contacted the authorities just after noon.

The entire building at the corner of Main Street and South Winooski Avenue was evacuated. Authorities X-rayed the letter, a bomb squad checked it and hazmat teams inspected it.

“The main focus has been the substance that was inside that letter,” said Deputy Chief Andi Higbee of the Burlington police.

Hazmat investigators said that the letter tested negative for anthrax, though it did contain a powdery substance.

A functional Congress would use the occasion of this latest flurry of harmless threats to demand that the Department of Justice reopen its failed Amerithrax investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. The continued insistence that Bruce Ivins carried out the 2001 attacks entirely on his own diminishes the credibility of the FBI and the Justice Department in general. But don’t hold your breath, despite the fact that the real culprit from 2001 has not been found, Congress is showing no inclination to nudge DOJ into action.

Should any of these letters in the latest attack turn out to have anthrax, would the FBI have the courage to compare the DNA in those samples to the DNA from the 2001 attacks?

Postscript: There does appear to be one unrelated active outbreak of anthrax that has killed at least one cow in Mississippi. Although rare, such cases in livestock occur naturally.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
19 replies
  1. zot23 says:

    The question this raises in my mind (as opposed to 2001) is if someone were to send members or congress or the media anthrax, would anyone even care? Heck, the sender may well poll better than receiver in approval of actions.

  2. klynn says:

    I thought there were new detection devices installed at postal sorting facilities in order to catch contaminated mail before it was delivered?

  3. joanneleon says:

    Watch as they try to pin this on Occupy Wall Street, or at least suggest. Timing is convenient too, just before the movement ramps up again very soon, in the spring.

  4. Jim White says:

    @joanneleon: Yes, there are multiple levels of concern. Is this really just the ranting of a crazy person, even though they did appear to manage to send out a large number of letters? A false flag operation would be even worse. I’m withholding judgment until we learn more about a suspect. With so many letters sent out, it seems likely that some sort of incriminating clue would be left behind if we have the FBI’s favorite sort of lone wolf. A more organized and better funded group, of course, might escape detection.

  5. person1597 says:

    Speaking of escaping detection… Liz Cheney has been awful quiet lately….

    Maybe she’s dusted off the olde “threat mail technology insertion” toolkit to really get this brokered convention thingy going!

    First step — muzzle Guiliani

    “I’m concerned about how do we get back the Northeast as a voting block when we seem to be not modern enough on social issues,” the former mayor said.

    Well, at least the National Enquirer stopped publishing those horrible stories about the Bush family after 2001. And Jeb is really trying to sound reasonable —

    Or you equip people that aspire for a better life to give them the tools and then you don’t try to manage that, you allow them to pursue those dreams as they see fit.

    If only HE had that dream…

    Can’t we just all agree — it’s time to hand our country back to the kind of strong leader that the history books crave. C’mon, blathering about weak democrats just doesn’t make for good newsroom copy these days. What America needs is Tru-Right (C) inspiration! Back to you Mz[m] Liz:


    “[The]comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration. Once again the President seems either unwilling or unable to do what it takes to keep this nation safe.

    Yay Liz! That’s the “Bring it On!” attitude we need!!

    But wait! There’s more!!

    By not assisting the protesters in Syria, once again [Obama] has found a way to assist Iran and its agenda.

    Wow, what’s next for our Iran-loving Keyensian-Kenyan anti-colonial Eco-Marxist-Alinskyist non-white democrap King Dick-Tater? Disneyland?

    Sing it Micky Mouse!

    Because… “Nothing stimulates the economy like a turtle tunnel in Tallahassee!”

    Boosh-Channnity-Palin 4-evah! Yeah Baby Yeah! That’s the Republicans’ final answer… IT GOING TO TAKE BUSH AND TWO VICE PRESIDENTS TO WIN!!

  6. Jim White says:

    @klynn: The system will only detect spores that leak out of the envelope. If the spores are sealed well (say,in plastic) inside the envelope, there would be nothing to detect. Achieving a good enough seal not to leak some spores would take pretty good know-how…

  7. PeasantParty says:

    @joanneleon: I have thought the same thing. There is a group that sorta hijacked the 99% theme and is calling themselves the 99%declaration or something like that. They have already planned a constitutional convention to be held in Philadelphia. They are NOT Occupy Wall Street and have a different view on the issues.

    OWS has been trying to make the distinction and separate themselves from this group. Many people are trying to get that message out. I can’t help but feel it is a Rove type ploy to get in front of any type of movement for the regular people in this country.

  8. PeasantParty says:

    The FBI can’t find the anthrax killer because that person was employed by the secret government. I will forever believe that and will not change my mind until some evidence and facts are presented that can prove me wrong.

  9. Quanto says:

    If the perpetrator really wanted to reach his targets he should have applied the powder to 100 dollar bills. Just think of a congress person afraid to touch a 100 dollar bill :).

  10. Acharn says:

    I’m just waiting to see if someone at MSNBC doesn’t come up with a “government scientist” to tell him/her that the powder contains some particular substance that proves it must come from Iran.

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