So far, the man described by the FBI last week is purely fictional, a portrait assembled in part from what little evidence is available and in part from long experience with serial killers. But if the bureau's forensic profilers are correct, it's a pretty good description of the man behind the anthrax attacks that have terrified America for the past five weeks. Sooner or later, they hope, someone will notice that it also describes a friend or co-worker or as in the case of the Unabomber a relative.
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If this portrait of a killer eventually results in an arrest, it will be largely thanks to James Fitzgerald of the FBI Academy's Behavioral Analysis Unit, a longtime student of such grandiose murderers. They're almost invariably male, says Fitzgerald, and they're always filled with anger. In this case, the rage is directed, for reasons still unclear, at Tom Brokaw, Tom Daschle and someone at the New York Post. "They represent something to him," says Fitzgerald. "Whatever agenda he's operating under, these people meant something to him." Indeed, the FBI is hoping the mailer might have spoken contemptuously of them to an acquaintance who will recall the incident.
Surprisingly, though, Fitzgerald doesn't think the man is linked to Osama bin Laden. In a TIME/CNN poll of 1,037 Americans last week, 63% thought it very likely that bin Laden was responsible for the anthrax attacks, 40% thought it very likely that Saddam Hussein was to blame, and only 16% picked "U.S. citizens not associated with foreign terrorists."
But the FBI profiler points out that references to Allah and Israel in the anthrax notes do not resemble similar references in letters from al-Qaeda terrorists. "He's an opportunist," says Fitzgerald, arguing that the man used the events of Sept. 11 as a cover. And while the finely powdered anthrax sent to Senator Daschle points to a skilled manufacturer, it need not have come from a professional bioweaponeer; it could have been made in a home lab with a budget of $2,500.
If that's the case, says Fitzgerald, then right after the hijackings, the mailer "would have become all of a sudden very mission-oriented, very focused and preoccupied." He might have begun self-medicating with antibiotics. After the letters were mailed, he would have become obsessed with reading the papers and watching TV, especially when the anthrax news broke. Another possible clue: the letters were mailed on Tuesdays in all three cases. That suggests this domestic terrorist had access to a lab only on weekends; he would then package the stuff on Monday and send it out the next day.
That is Fitzgerald's theory anyway, and with any luck the public will match this behavioral portrait with a real person. Or maybe someone will pick up instead on the mailer's writing style: 09 for September, rather than just 9; printing the number 1 with a distinctive foot and head; writing can not instead of can't; using block letters rather than upper and lower case.
Unfortunately, this is about all the FBI has to go on. Not only is there an almost total absence of clues, but, say critics, there's also an abundance of cluelessness within the FBI. Several university labs that work with anthrax, and companies that make or repair equipment that could have been used to process it, complain that the bureau still hasn't questioned them or, when it did, asked the wrong questions.
Scientists at Iowa State University, meanwhile, where the family of anthrax strains used in the attacks was first isolated, say the FBI didn't object when they decided to destroy their collection of anthrax samples for fear they couldn't keep them secure. (The bureau figured the "Ames" strain was so widespread the samples didn't matter.) And while officials insist that they've been thoroughly professional, FBI Deputy Assistant Director James T. Caruso admitted to a Senate committee last week that the bureau doesn't know how many labs in the U.S. handle anthrax.
With no strong leads, investigators are turning to the public for help. In Washington, the U.S. Postal Service upped its reward for information on the attacks to $1.25 million. In New York City, the FBI and local police have put up posters asking about Manhattan hospital worker Kathy Nguyen's whereabouts in the weeks before her death. It's possible, they think, that learning how she got inhalation anthrax could somehow triangulate on the attacker.
The one hopeful note Fitzgerald cautiously sounds is the suggestion that the perpetrator might be finished with his vendetta. He has proved his skill at making deadly bioweapons, and he's vented his anger at his targets. "He has accomplished," says Fitzgerald, "what he wanted to accomplish." If so, our latest national nightmare may be over. If not, the proof may already be in the mail.
Reported by Elaine Shannon/Washington