Do you remember the Anthrax Terrorist? Right after 9/11, someone mailed out packets of anthrax to a newspaper office in Florida, to some politicians in Washington and to some network news anchors. Several people died as a result of this.
Both the FBI and the Post Office were on the hunt for this guy. The Post Office was offering $1 million reward for information that led to the terrorist’s arrest. Any news show we watched during those days had a scroll running underneath it, asking for the public’s help in catching this killer.
One night around this time, I fell asleep watching the World Series and I had a dream. In the dream, it came to me that whoever was mailing out the deadly anthrax was probably doing it in his home somewhere. But because this stuff is so deadly, it wouldn’t be like he was packing envelopes over his kitchen sink or in his bathtub. Even if he was wearing protective gear, he’d contaminate his house this way. Again, in the dream, it dawned on me that he was probably using a glovebox to pack the anthrax into the letters he was mailing.
(A glovebox looks like a big home aquarium, without the water and fish. They are made of thick glass and have two holes in one side through which heavy rubber gloves are placed. People put their hands in the gloves and are thus able to handle hazardous materials without contaminating themselves or their surroundings.)
As it so happened, my neighbor owned a company that made gloveboxes – and there are only five such companies in the US. The next day I told him my theory and said if anyone out of the ordinary had ordered a glovebox from his company recently, it might be the guy who was mailing out the anthrax. He agreed. If this guy was amateur – and remember at the time everyone thought it was Al Qaeda operatives doing this – and wasn’t doing it in a laboratory somewhere (which was unlikely) he would absolutely need a glovebox to do what he was doing.
I called a friend of mine who works for the FBI in Washington and told him the story. He checked with his superiors and they suggested I call the FBI’s Boston office, which is close to where I live. With my neighbor’s OK, I did this . . . and that’s when things started to go wrong.
First of all, it took the FBI almost 2 weeks to get back to me. Again, remember at the time the news was full of how hard the FBI was working to catch this guy, which, knowing what I know now, must have been bullcrap. When an FBI agent called, I told him the story, explained what a glovebox was, and how there were only five companies in the country that made them – two of which were in the town I lived in, and one of which was owned by my neighbor. It took me a while to explain it all to him; at one point he said the FBI had already checked this out. But I told him no one had ever contacted my neighbor’s company. The agent took notes, I guess, and said he’d get back to me. He also wanted to talk to my neighbor.
My neighbor called him a few days later, and essentially regurgitated what I had told the agent earlier. The agent said he’d get back to us.
Another two weeks went by. One night my phone rang. It was the FBI. A different agent. He started the conversation with: “I understand you know who the Anthrax killer is.”
I told him, no – I just had information on how the guy might be doing it, and that all the FBI had to do was check the records of these glovebox companies and see if anyone unusual had bought one lately. (BTW, gloveboxes aren’t cheap. They cost about $30,000 each.)
The agent took my information – again — and then asked to speak with my neighbor, again. By this time we were getting PO’d that these guys were so disorganized, so not on the beam about this. To watch the news – especially that propaganda operation Fox News — you would have thought the FBI was throwing every resource they had into this. Yet to us, they were bumbling and very disconnected.
My neighbor talked to them again, reluctantly by this time, and eventually, some agents arrived at the two glovebox companies in our town and went over their recent sales records. They spent no more than an hour in both places – not exactly Sherlock Holmes-stuff – and left. By this time, my neighbor and I were sorry we even got involved. When the fact the FBI visited his company came out in the local paper, it just made the whole situation worse. It took them nearly two months to act on this, something that should have taken a day at the most.
So much for trying help out.
All this happened more than three years ago. Last time I checked, the Anthrax killer was still on the loose.