VOL. 115 | NO. 203 | Thursday, November 29, 2001
Anthrax hoaxes are no joke says Memphis FBI
Anthrax hoaxes are no joke, says Memphis FBI
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
anyone discovered sending white powder packages through the mail will face
hefty charges and possible jail time.
According to the law, individuals who threaten the use of
biological toxins can receive up to life in prison. Those who lie to law
enforcement officials about terrorist hoaxes, and those who mail communications
containing any threat to injure the addressee or any other person, can also
receive up to five years in prison.
By early October, more than 2,300 cases of suspected anthrax
bacteria had been reported nationwide, many of these hoaxes.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned: You will be
caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will pay a high price for your crimes.
Robert Mueller, FBI director echoed Ashcrofts warning.
Hoaxes, pranks and threats involving chemical or biological
agents are serious crimes and warrant a serious response, he said.
The Memphis field office of the FBI recorded 255 submissions
since Oct. 11 when the first of the suspect packages arrived on the desks of
Judge Julia Gibbons and Mayor Jim Rout.
There have been many more suspicious packages found, but the
Memphis Emergency Management Agency investigated them on the scene and
determined they were harmless, said FBI media coordinator George Bolds.
We get called in here when theres actually a sample
collected on a call-out. There are more call-outs by the EMA and by the strike
force team than there are samples taken. They show up and it turns out to be
something thats identified at the scene, he said.
A submission is a sample transported by FBI agents to the
public health service laboratory in Jackson, Tenn., Bolds said.
There is a public health service laboratory in Memphis but
before the anthrax scare outbreak it had been shut down temporarily for
renovations. Bolds said at some point he expects the Memphis lab would be operational
The FBIs office in Memphis has a unique role, because in
cooperation with the EMA it is responsible for physically transporting the
bagged samples to the laboratory in Jackson.
Memphis is the field office for the FBI in western and
middle sections of Tennessee. It includes 86 agents and serves satellite
offices in Nashville, Jackson, Columbia, Clarksville and Cookeville.
So far, no one has been indicted for sending hoax letters,
Considering that the first anthrax sample the local FBI got
involved with was Oct. 11, it has been a relatively short period of time, he
Because the anthrax samples are collected and then sent to
the lab, some of the evidence is not available for forensic testing for a
couple of weeks while the lab has it. The investigations take time, Bolds said.
If you mail something to a person or if you take a white
powder and bring it to your workplace and put it on your desk, that probably is
a threatening communication, and says I intend it as a threat. So, there is a
possibility that it would fall under a federal statute for making threatening
communications, he said.
Sending something by mail makes it easy for prosecutors
because it is clearly a federal offense, Bolds said.
If its not through the mail its less clear, but might
still be seen as a threatening communication. Putting the powder on your desk
is a nonverbal communication. It is communicating a threat to you, he said.
Lt. Tim Cook, general assignment division supervisor with
the Memphis Police Department said the Memphis community has been very
supportive of the situation and the department has not received any bogus calls
in relation to anthrax scares.
Reports of white powder threats have been forwarded to the
FBI or the postal service, but the department was not seeing any other kind of
threatening activity, he said.
When it comes to threats and where people make phone calls
we would still get that kind of stuff, but I havent been seeing it here. Weve
been lucky, he said.
Most of our citizens understand how serious this really is,
and even though we have the pranksters out there, the sort of people who pull
this sort of stuff, those people also understand this is real serious stuff and
people can get hurt if they try to do this sort of thing, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced
Wednesday no evidence of anthrax spores was found on the premises of two
Memphis facilities tested.
The Memphis Processing and Distribution Center, 555 S.Third
St., and the Memphis Bulk Mail Center, 1921 Elvis Presley Blvd., showed no
evidence of anthrax in the building and no evidence that contaminated or
suspect mail passed through the Memphis area.
The two centers were included among more than 270 postal
facilities tested as part of a national program by the U.S. Postal Service to
ensure the safety of employees and customers.
Since Sept. 11, the postal service has delivered 35 billion
pieces of mail nationwide. Only three of the 35 billion were confirmed to