Practice Makes Perfect
B'nai B'brith 1997
Leaking package at B'nai B'rith makes
April 24, 1997
Web posted at: 11:06 p.m. EDT (0306 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least 17 people were taken to hospitals after a package leaking an unknown liquid was discovered
at the international headquarters of the B'nai B'rith Jewish fraternal organization.
The package and its contents were placed in sealed containers and taken to the Bethesda Naval Research Facility for examination.
Police say labelling on the package indicated it contained anthrax, a dangerous biological warfare chemical, but they
added that testing has shown that is not the case.
The package was labeled as possibly containing a chemical or biological agent. It was accompanied by a letter of several
pages, signed by an organization no one recognized, FBI sources told CNN. That name was not released.
The package was leaking liquid when it was discovered late Thursday morning by mail clerks. Two people who came in contact
with the liquid reported feeling ill, and complained of headaches. They were taken to a hospital for treatment and were reported
in stable condition.
A spokeswoman at George Washington University Hospital said at least 15 to 18 other people exposed to the package were
going to be examined and were decontaminated as a precaution.
Authorities sealed off several blocks of Massachusetts Avenue, a main Washington artery, and briefly evacuated the building
housing the organization's offices. A B'nai B'rith spokeswoman said there were fewer than the normal 100 employees in the
building because of the Passover holiday.
The FBI was assisting other officials in tracing the movement of the package before it arrived in Washington.
At the White House, about a mile away, officials were monitoring the situation but taking no unusual precautions.
Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno contributed to this report.
Anthrax hoaxes: Hot new hobby?
By Leonard A. Cole
July/August 1999 pp. 7-9 (vol. 55, no. 04) © 1999 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
In April 24, 1997, a petri dish labeled "anthrachs" arrived in a package mailed to the offices of B'nai B'rith
in Washington, D.C. The dish contained a red, gelatinous material which, nine hours later, was determined to be harmless.
Meanwhile, police cordoned off the area around the building, rerouted traffic, and quarantined more than a hundred B'nai B'rith
employees and residents of a nearby hotel.
Some of the police who walked into the "hot zone" without protective gear balked at the emergency medical team's
orders to take their clothes off and shower. In one instance a policeman struck an emergency service worker before high-ranking
officers prevailed on him to obey.
It was the nation's first major anthrax hoax. But not the last........"
The Anthrax Files
By Nicholas D. Kristof
New York Times | Opinion
Friday, 12 July, 2002
When someone expert in bio-warfare mailed anthrax last fall, it may not have been the first time he had struck.
So while the F.B.I. has been unbelievably lethargic in its investigation so far, any year now it will re-examine the package
that arrived on April 24, 1997, at the B'nai B'rith headquarters in Washington D.C. The package contained a petri dish mislabeled
The dish did not contain anthrax. But a Navy lab determined that it was bacillus cereus, a very close, non-toxic cousin
of anthrax used by the U.S. Defense Department.
Anybody able to obtain bacillus cereus knew how to spell "anthrax." An echo of that deliberate misspelling came
last fall when the anthrax letters suggested taking "penacilin."
The choice of B'nai B'rith probably was meant to suggest Arab terrorists, because the building had once been the target
of an assault by Muslim gunmen. In the same way, F.B.I. profilers are convinced that the real anthrax attacks last year were
conducted by an American scientist trying to pin the blame on Arabs.
In a column on July 2 I wrote about "Mr. Z," an American bio-defense insider who intrigues investigators and
whose career has been spent in the shadowy world of counterterror and intelligence. He denies any involvement in the anthrax
On the date that the perpetrator chose for the B'nai B'rith attack, a terrorism seminar was under way in the Washington
area and Mr. Z seemed peeved that neither he nor any other bio-defense expert had been included as a speaker. The next day,
Mr. Z sent a letter to the organizer saying that he was "rather concerned" at the omission and added: "As was
evidenced in downtown Washington D.C. a few hours later, this topic is vital to the security of the United States. I am tremendously
interested in becoming more involved in this area. . . ."
Over the next couple of years, Mr. Z used the B'nai B'rith attack to underscore the importance of his field and his own
status within it. "Remember B'nai B'rith," he noted at one point. In examples he gave of how anthrax attacks might
happen, he had a penchant for dropping Arab names.
The F.B.I. must be on top of the B'nai B'rith episode, right? Well, it was told about it months ago. But B'nai B'rith
says it hasn't been asked about the incident by the F.B.I.
The authorities seem equally oblivious to another round of intriguing anthrax hoaxes in February 1999. As with last fall's
anthrax letters, a handful of envelopes with almost identical messages were sent to a combination of media and government
targets including The Washington Post, NBC's Atlanta office, a post office in Columbus, Ga. (next to Fort Benning, an Army
base), and the Old Executive Office Building in Washington (where Mr. Z had given a briefing three months earlier).
I found a local policeman in Columbus willing to dig out his file on that 1999 anthrax hoax. There are several similarities
with last fall's mailing. For example, one page of the 1999 letter says, in big, bold capitals:
"WARNING: THIS BUILDING AND EVERYTHING IN IT HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO ANTHRAX. CALL 911 NOW AND SECURE THE BUILDING.
OTHERWISE THE GERM WILL SPREAD."
Last fall's letters are also in bold capitals and use similar language patterns.
In contrast to the 1997 package with fake anthrax gelatin, the 1999 letters each contained a teaspoon of fake anthrax
powder (roughly the same amount as of real anthrax in 2001). That's interesting because as of 1997, U.S. bio-defense scientists
were working basically only with wet anthrax, while by 1999 some had experimented with making powders.
For example, Mr. Z apparently learned about powders during those two years. His 1999 r um adds something missing from
the 1997 version: "working knowledge of wet and dry BW [biological warfare] agents, large-scale production of bacterial,
rickettsial and viral BW pathogens and toxins."
Two outside consultants used by the F.B.I. to examine documents in the anthrax case, Don Foster and Mark Smith, both say
they have not been shown the 1997 or 1999 hoax letters. The 1999 envelopes carried stamps, which may have been licked.
It would be fascinating to know whose DNA that is. Perhaps when the F.B.I. is finished defending itself from charges of
lethargy, it will check.