FBI Asks for Help in Identifying Sender of Anthrax Bacillus

Dear ASM Member,

We have been contacted several times by the FBI and asked to cooperate in the ongoing criminal investigation of transmission of the bacterium that causes anthrax through the mail. The latest request from the FBI is posted below. It is a message to be sent to ASM members asking anyone who has information about the likely perpetrator to contact the FBI directly. This message will be sent within the next day or so.

Last fall, the FBI asked ASM to make its membership list available. The FBI made the request, shortly after the anthrax-laced letters were sent to members of Congress and to employees of news organizations contaminating the US mail and exposing hundreds of US citizens to anthrax. The FBI asked for help in identifying possible perpetrators of this crime involving someone with knowledge of microbiology. The request was considered by three elected national officers, the President, Abigail Salyers, the President-elect, Ron Atlas and the Secretary, Judy Daly. Legal counsel to the ASM also reviewed the request. After receiving advice from counsel, these elected representatives concluded it was appropriate and responsible to provide a list of ASM members to the FBI. The reasons are;

  • The request came from a legitimate law enforcement agency at a time when terrorists were assaulting the United States and its citizens. Anthrax had already claimed the lives of five innocent victims. The action was criminal and not ideological.
  • The FBI had already approached individual members for help. The officers saw the provision of the full membership list as a patriotic act on behalf of the ASM, which could take a positive action to aid in the search for a murderer who used a biological weapon, and specifically a microorganism. Moreover, the Council Policy Committee, the executive committee of ASM, had just affirmed the longstanding position of the Society that microbiologists will work for the proper and beneficent application of science and will call to the attention of the public or the appropriate authorities misuses of microbiology or of information derived from microbiology. ASM members are obligated to discourage any use of microbiology contrary to the welfare of humankind, includingthe use of microbes as biological weapons.
  • The identical information about ASM members is available on the ASM web site, although it would be difficult and time-consuming to search by individual names.
  • Legal counsel advised the officers that the FBI, as an alternative, would issue a subpoena for the names.

Prior to sending the list, the ASM requested and received a written assurance from the FBI that the information would be used only for the purposes of the specific investigation and not for any other purpose, nor would the information be released under any Freedom of Information Act request.

It appears, based on a profile generated by the FBI, that an individual, possibly a US citizen, with significant expertise in microbiology, is likely involved in the terrorist act. ASM is ready to assist in any way possible the effort to identify, arrest, and convict the person responsible for the crime and to ensure that there are no more victims. Bioterrorism violates the fundamental principles expressed in the Code of Ethics of the Society and is abhorrent to the ASM and its members.

Abigail Salyers,
President. ASM

To: Membership of the American Society for Microbiology

From: Van Harp, Assistant Director, Washington Field Office Federal Bureau of Investigation

On September 18, 2001, two copies of an identical letter were mailed in separate envelopes from Trenton, NJ, one to "Editor, New York Post" and the other to "Tom Brokaw, NBC TV." Each letter contained a significant quantity of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

On October 9, 2001, two additional copies of a slightly different letter were mailed from Trenton, NJ, the first to "Senator (Tom) Daschle" and the second to "Senator (Patrick) Leahy." Each of these letters again contained Bacillus anthracis but of a better quality than the letters mailed to New York.

As a result of these mailings and the resulting bacterial infections, there are five innocent persons who are dead, including a ninety-four year old Connecticut Woman. Additional cases of cutaneous anthrax have infected numerous individuals including a seven month old baby in New York City.

I would like to appeal to the talented men and women of the American Society for Microbiology to assist the FBI in identifying the person who mailed these letters. It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual. A review of the information-to-date in this matter leads investigators to believe that a single person is most likely responsible for these mailings. This person is experienced working in a laboratory. Based on his or her selection of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis one would expect that this individual has or had legitimate access to select biological agents at some time. This person has the technical knowledge and/or expertise to produce a highly refined and deadly product. This person has exhibited a clear, rational thought process and appears to be very organized in the production and mailing of these letters. The perpetrator might be described as "stand-offish" and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting. It is possible this person used off-hours in a laboratory or may have even established an improvised or concealed facility comprised of sufficient equipment to produce the anthrax.

It is important to ensure that all relevant information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is brought to the attention of the investigators in this case. If you believe that you have information that might assist in the identification of this individual, please contact the FBI via telephone at 1-800-CRIME TV (1-800-274-6388) or via email: Amerithrax@FBI.gov

There is also a $2.5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible in this case.